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The Value of Community and Volunteering

Service-learning courses get students to see how political issues present in communities
December 9, 2015

“Receiving an education is central to our development as persons and citizens, and part of that education is understanding our place in our community and the power we have to improve lives and make that community more just,” says Professor Sarah Holtman. She emphasizes this message every day in a service-learning course she’s been teaching since 2005. This course, which is an optional one credit addition to the political philosophy course she teaches, exemplifies how the University would like its students and faculty to connect with the community.

Holtman’s students volunteer in a variety of ways and in various communities, including the Glendale, East River Road, and Prospect Park neighborhoods. Some students mentor or tutor elementary or middle school students, others assist seniors with daily tasks. For school children in particular, it's not just the help but getting to know a college student and seeing that college is possible that really matters. Holtman notices these children light up when seeing an “actual college student”—this helps make the dream of a college education real for these children, and propels them towards success.

As for the University students, the lessons they learn are just as valuable. “My students are able to engage with communities that are culturally, racially, and socioeconomically distinct from their own,” Holtman says, “and they develop a better understanding of how different someone’s world can be from their own, but also of the value of these communities and the people who compose them.”

Claire Atmore took Holtman’s course as a sophomore. “I helped teach an after school program at the community center in the Prospect Park neighborhood. We would prepare healthy snacks for the kids and take them either outside or to the gym for recess time. After recess, we helped the kids with their homework or did projects. Seeing them grow and learn and get better in their studies over the course of the semester made me so proud of them.”

“My students get to see first hand the political issues in these communities,” Holtman says. “At first, students are often unsure how to understand or interact with new communities. But as time goes on they develop a sense that, no matter the differences, these are an extension of their own community. They gain a real concern to see members thrive."

“Volunteering at the Prospect Park community center was challenging,” Atmore says. “I learned to understand and appreciate a community that was very different from my own. There have been only two volunteer experiences I’ve had in my entire life that I feel have shaped the way I see and react to the world, and this is one of them. I recommend the class to everyone I talk to.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.