Center brings students, community groups together

September 30, 2008

The clock had barely clicked past 4:30 p.m., and freshman Eddie Ezekiel and his young partner were racking the pool balls. That’s the magic hour at the Westminster Boys and Girls Club when good old-fashioned fun replaces schoolwork.

Ezekiel is one of 30 McDaniel students who volunteer at the club. All have been through training so that they can serve as buddies of sorts and mentors in a dozens of ways.

“I love working with kids – to help teach them and have the interaction,” Ezekiel said on Sept. 23, his first day on the job that has no paycheck but lots of rewards.

Club Director Judy Artis just smiles as she looks around the room at the pairs of mentors and their charges during the first hour – what she calls the Power Hour – when attention is focused on math and reading, science and social studies. One of the duos includes a McDaniel alumna, Beth Tevis, who is a regular at the club and helped train the McDaniel students.

It’s a natural alliance – college students with the energy, time and passion to give back and community organizations in need of all of the above. But sometimes it takes a catalyst, an organizer, to bring the two together.

Enter McDaniel’s new Center for Community Outreach and Service and its enthusiastic staff of two. Jim Mayola and Tara Kaley make connections between needs and student volunteers, between service-learning opportunities and professors, between the community and McDaniel students.

McDaniel students have always reached out to the local community, but the refocused effort is bound to see community outreach grow. Although the center is new in September, already 80 students have expressed interest in volunteering in the community. There’s no shortage of non-profit organizations or McDaniel students eager to give their time.

“These are win-win situations,” says Mayola, whose official title is AmeriCorps VISTA member and Liaison for Community Outreach and Service. “I’ll have no trouble finding slots for as many students as would like to participate.”

Three different programs – two with grants – mesh in the center’s mission. The programs – AmeriCorps VISTA, the Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) project and the Campus Compact – share some common goals. AmeriCorps VISTA promotes community outreach and service as a means of fighting poverty. The BTtoP project encourages experiential learning through service within the local community.

And the Campus Compact, an agreement among 10 Maryland colleges, aims at teaching students to be active citizens of their local and global communities.

Students are the beneficiaries of this partnership among programs. Collaboration among McDaniel students, faculty and the local community gives students “real world” experience and reinforces classroom learning. Service learning fosters community involvement that often stays with students long after they receive their diplomas.

Kaley, Faculty Liaison for Service Learning, works with professors to implement service learning opportunities. A workshop featuring professors from three of the colleges is slated for mid-October to help McDaniel professors learn how to develop and oversee projects.

AmeriCorps VISTA’s “grant” is to fund Mayola’s AmeriCorps VISTA member position. BTtoP funded a $10,000 grant with the stipulation the college match it with $10,000.

Service learning is different from volunteering, although neither involve a paycheck. In the former, students complete a project – a marketing brochure or a Web site design – or a service such as McDaniel’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). The project generally involves about 4-6 hours a week of the students’ time and the students receive grades.

Gerard Elligson '10 reviews math homework with one of the youngsters at the Westminster Boys and Girls Club.

Beth Tevis '77, M.Ed. '84, helps a elementary school student with a geography project. Boys and Girls Club Director Judy Artis directs activites in the background.