Friday, April 4, 2008

Urgent Need for Spanish Community Service Learning Work

Yesterday I received an e-mail from an employee at A Woman's Place (Urbana) telling me that they had a few Spanish-speaking clients with whom they were not able to communicate well. Could my students help?


I identified one student to take the lead and work the most hours, then e-mailed all students to ask them to volunteer as well.

The woman with whom I spoke was obviously discouraged because she wanted to be able to provide her clients with full access to the organization's services, but the communication barrier was preventing that. She described difficulties in case management--setting goals for finding housing, employment, etc.--and daily living--e.g., finding family connections, arranging transportation, etc. This is an opportunity for students to have real impact in the lives of the organization's Spanish-speaking clients.

I have reflected on a few things that this sudden opportunity towards the end of the semester has shown me:

Which students will volunteer for an "extra" opportunity? On the one hand, I have students who are behind on their required 28 hours of community service learning work, for various reasons (some beyond their control, some within their control). For one student in this situation, I specifically told him that he needed to take the lead on this project. All others can contact the organization directly themselves. What I have observed so far is that the most interested and active students are actually those that have plenty of community service learning hours. They are not looking to "make up " anything; they are truly engaged and excited about doing this work.

How do you balance semester-long partnerships with urgent requests? To run a community-based learning program that integrates community work throughout the semester (as opposed to projects), you absolutely must form partnerships that provide regular work for the students. They need to be able to schedule their lives ahead of time, and you need to be able to plan your teaching curriculum. However, what I have seen from this current experience is that students--often the busiest students--will rise to the challenge of fulfilling an urgent request. I will also now work with A Woman's Place to see if they can be one of our permanent community partners.

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