Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Student Experience
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Leadership: Making a Difference in the World
Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve
Berea College: Learning, Labor, and Service
A Developmental and Capacity-Building Model for Community Partnerships
The Power of a Sustained Relationship between Community Partners and Colleges and Universities
Faculty Involvement
Prequel to Civic Engagement: An African American Studies Research Seminar
Service Learning and Policy Change
Facilitating Student Growth as Citizens: A Developmental Model for Community-Engaged Learning
Student Experience
An Intentional and Comprehensive Student Development Model
Bonner: More Than a Model, a Lived Experience
Relationships First
Commitment to a Cause
Institutional Leadership
Preparing to Serve
Checklist from the President’s Chair
Curricular Transformation
LifeWorks and the Commons: A Model for General Education
The Case for Studying Poverty
Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal Outcomes of the Cocurricular Bonner Scholars Program
Resources for Civic Engagement
Serving, Voting, and Speaking Out: Bonner Students Reflect on Civic Engagement

Relationships First

By Matthew Morton, coordinator of Bonner Leadership and Community Outreach Initiatives and former Bonner senior intern, Stetson University

Bonner Leader Matthew Morton poses with a teen from Spring Hill

Bonner Leader Matthew Morton poses with a teen from Spring Hill.

When fifteen-year-old Amarri spoke up for the first time at a youth council meeting we knew it was a breakthrough. To many, talking at a meeting carries little glamour, but not for a timid young woman who has grown up in Spring Hill, Florida, a community in daily struggle and poverty. This was a step worth celebrating.

Amarri now confidently serves as one of the principal teen leaders for CAUSE, the Campaign for Adolescent and University Student Empowerment. CAUSE is a community youth empowerment program started by students from Stetson University and teens from Spring Hill.

Serving hundreds of youth and children with afterschool programs and a youth-run foundation, CAUSE was named the “best youth outreach” at an institution of higher education in the state by the Florida Leader. If you compliment one of our Stetson students on the work they’ve done for youth, however, you might be thanked and corrected. As we see it, it is what we do with the youth that has made great things happen. As one teen serving on the youth council succinctly said, “We want you to stand with us, not over us.”

Stetson students, staff, and faculty have learned—sometimes the hard way—that stories of transformation like Amarri’s generally do not happen passively or quickly. Meaningful community empowerment requires more than resources, volunteers, a large staff, and good intent. It entails a supportive and committed relationship with individuals in the community. This means that each teen must be valued as an expert and resource in the community, not as an object or the mere recipient of services.

The Bonner program at Stetson champions this philosophy. Every year, dozens of service-minded students receive scholarships for their passionate commitments. The Bonner students volunteer eight hours per week with a single community project or agency throughout their college career. CAUSE is one of those many initiatives.

Above all, students are encouraged to forge meaningful relationships between each other and with members of the community. This fosters a deeper attachment to the Bonner program and its service sites. It also encourages the students to value members of the community as fellow human beings with remarkable gifts and wisdom of their own. The goal is to have students not simply going through the motions, but truly engaging with the community in which they’re working.

Students in CAUSE, for example, soberly realized that teenage boys in Spring Hill were spending a lot of time on the streets. They were more difficult to get and keep in the program. To address the problem, we started having weekly “guys’ nights out.” It gave the college men and male teens regular opportunities to participate in an activity together. The youth now feel as if it is their time with older young men whom they trust, which keeps them coming back.

Young people in communities like Spring Hill often lose trust for people outside. Many youth have endured lives of broken promises in their schools, communities, and families. The Bonner model encourages consistency, making sure participants see the same familiar faces of caring college students every day. After a while, the students are no longer volunteers. The students become friends. That is what we strive for.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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