Guilford College proves every day how important it is to put ideas about justice and stewardship into practice. In particular, Guilford does a fabulous job with community work (with the resources available). The Bonner Program is operated by just a few staff members (James Shields, Andrew Young and Susan May) as well as dozens of students. Some students, the Bonner Scholars, come to the school on scholarships designed for lower tuition with the agreement to complete many hours of community work. The Bonner Scholars must complete 140 hours of community work per semester, each! Other students, Community Scholars, sign up to complete work study through service work and the school pays them for the hours of community work completed.
I say "community work" because, in JPS 103 Community Problem Solving class I came to understand that "service" is a very limited term. Community work can be more inclusive than service work because it implies a mutual exchange, rather than simply coming in and providing a service. By this I mean, offering food or English lessons as service may be helpful but offering companionship, a listening ear, brainstorming and give-and-take can be much more fulfilling and helpful enterprises. This class (JPS 103), which is currently taught by Sherry Giles, Krista Craven and Aleks Babic, requires students to complete 30 hours of community work through Bonner. Jackie Carr is a student who has accepted the difficult job of working as a TA for these classes, helping coordinate between students and community site coordinators.
I was wondering what kinds of challenges or insights Bonner members may have regarding community work, so I talked with two people who focus much of their time on improving community work experience:
Mara Stern '16 is one of this years Senior Bonner Interns and she says that she became a Bonner Scholar as a Sophomore. We talked about how one of the biggest challenges faced with doing community work is to make sure that it is helpful. Good intentions are not enough. Some sites are difficult to enter and understand properly in order to help. Mara says, "make sure to reassess and be committed to serve rather than just go into a community expecting immediate results." She touts a need to really comprehend the unique situation of people involved at sites in order to make sure to offer the proper assistance. Community work is very important for personal growth as well. Mara likes to think of a quote by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund when trying to describe this concept: "Service is the rent we pay for living."
Susan May, who organizes the Community Scholar coordination, comments on the practical difficulties of community work,
Although it may be at times a challenge for students to arrange their schedules, once they decide to commit to a service site it usually becomes a workable and meaningful part of their life. It is very doable for all students, even athletes, can find time to participate in service.
But she also notes some challenges related to understanding of community work itself: "It can be challenging for people to confront their own personal prejudices and stereotypes and also to wake up to the realities that many people suffer and the realities of social injustice or pain." She urges students to "accept your limitations as well as your strengths."
In my search for information about what the Bonner Program needs to improve the impact on the community, I found one answer in Susan's comment, "Often it is challenging to get to the sites, because Guilford College does not offer a means of transportation." As a former TA for JPS 103, I understand this frustration. There are approximately 40 Bonner sites and the transportation is worked out by a system of carpooling in which students who have cars must offer up time as drivers and the school reimburses for gas money. While this is a very environmentally friendly method, it is sometimes difficult as any one site may have 15 different students attending over the course of the week. For example, the YWCA Teen Parent Mentor Program has carpools leaving twice a night on some days as the Parent Mentor part starts earlier than the part where you look after the children of the Teen Parents.
Despite the hassles involved in getting out to sites and really doing some good in the world, the work is fulfilling. It benefits the students who are doing the work by helping them, in Susan May's words, "to become civic minded and carry this wherever they go."
Thank you for reading and I hope this inspires you to go out and become a volunteer!