Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Campus-Community Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 1

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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

The Power of a Sustained Relationship between Community Partners and Colleges and Universities

By James M. Ellison, director, Laughlin Memorial Chapel, Wheeling, West Virginia

How does a community partner view its relationship with the Bonner program or a campus that hosts such a student program? The Laughlin Chapel is a community center that serves three hundred children in grades K–12 through after-school and evening activities, including a nutrition program that provides twenty thousand meals annually and summer activities centered on West Virginia’s freedom school. The chapel is located in a neighborhood where 38 percent of housing is abandoned and over 90 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.

The vitality of the chapel’s programs is a result of long-standing partnerships with local institutions. These include Wheeling Jesuit University, an institution with which the chapel established the Mother Jones House, an intentional community of juniors and seniors who live and serve for one year in the neighborhood; West Liberty State College, which sends over two hundred education majors each year to serve in the chapel’s after-school and evening programs, providing the context for their learning and discernment of their calling as teachers; and Waynesburg College, whose students come twice weekly to serve and mentor, while also helping youth publish a magazine that is inserted into fifty thousand newspapers. In partnership with the Bonner Foundation and Wheeling Jesuit University, the chapel also hosts a growing number of college groups who are part of alternative service-oriented break experiences that require them to reflect upon community, social, and regional issues.

Experiences with the chapel are an important part of the educational process. College students are given hands-on experience as they prepare to become teachers, therapists, and journalists. In the process, students become committed to the community and come to understand the importance of place and context. Students develop confidence in interacting with people from different races, backgrounds, and economic situations. In experiencing these new situations, they develop as leaders who understand that to change a community one must empower people in the community to see themselves as leaders.

Often, students who serve in this community become advocates, encouraging their own institutions to move a relationship lived at a distance to one that is more personal and face-to-face. At the same time, through their engagement with the community, students gain confidence in their skills, ability to communicate, and leadership. They learn how to look at themselves critically, especially as they are challenged to examine long-held beliefs and behaviors. In the process, students come to see diversity as a means of enhancing their work rather than as an impediment to it.

The students are not the only ones who are transformed. The institutions that send them learn how to be better neighbors. They learn from the students how to more effectively use their resources to effect positive change in a community.

All of these mutual benefits contribute to lasting, sustainable relationships. Each partner must “know itself” and, from this honest self-understanding, advocate strongly for its own mission. In the case of the chapel, our responsibility is to three hundred kids. Anything we do within any partnership must always benefit them. By contrast, the partner college has as its primary focus the education of its students. In designing collaborative partnerships centered upon community engagement, the school must always ensure that any partnership is aligned with its own mission. Only as each partner articulates its own goals can community-based programs evolve into a lasting relationship that will withstand failures and setbacks.

Developing a lasting partnership between a college and a community agency is no different than cultivating any other partnership. Success comes through a commitment to team building, honest communication, and mutual accountability. It comes when each partner realizes collaboration is hard work. Whenever either partner sees the partnership only as “an easy way to get more volunteers,” “a way to give our students exposure,” or any other quick fix to college or community issues, the partnership will fail. However challenging, the work of creating and sustaining relationships is worth the effort because of the transformative possibilities that it holds for students, host institutions and agencies, and the community that brings them all together.



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