by Ann Abbott
January: Tour your community.
You are like me, I'm sure--a busy professional with little free time.
This is what most of my days look like: wake up, do our hectic morning routine at home, drop the kids of at school, drive to my office on campus, work until 5:00, go home to relieve the babysitter, do the evening routine at home and go to bed. There are truly many days when I don't go anywhere else besides my house and my building on campus.
Are your days similar to mine?
If we want students to break out of the campus bubble and have enriching and challenging learning experiences in the community, we need to do the same thing ourselves. So one day, drive around the communities where you think your students might be able to do their community service learning (CSL) work. In my case, there are some very well defined areas in Champaign-Urbana where large groups of Spanish-speakers live. By just driving around those communities I can get a sense of the neighborhoods. What agencies, businesses, civic organizations and churches are located there? What immediately catches your eye as a place that might be a likely community partner? Jot down that information.
On another day this month, drive into campus. But don't head to your office. Head to the bus stop. Take the bus from campus to the community you identified as you drove around town. Can students who don't have cars realistically get to the site? (If not, just not that you will need to help students organize themselves to carpool.) Do you see any community assets and/or community needs that you didn't notice while you were driving yourself? Add those to the list of ideas to follow up on.
While you're there, walk around the community. Where do people hang out? Where is the neighborhood school? Are there lots of cars in a church parking lot even when it's not Sunday? That might be a neighborhood hub. What kind of announcement do you see stapled or taped to utility poles? What languages do you hear? Are there free newspapers around? Pick one up. Try the coffee at a local establishment. Feeling bold? Then walk right in to one or two of the sites you think might make potential community partners and just tell them this: "I'm planning to teach a [Spanish] course next fall at [the University of Illinois] in which students will volunteer [28 hours] in a local organization. My students would [improve their Spanish] while they helped the organization [provide services to Spanish-speaking clients] or work on a special project. Could your organization use some volunteers?" See where that leads.
But if all you do is take this tour, that's enough to get your mind working and to get a preliminary understanding of the community. In this first step, you break out of the campus bubble yourself.