Whittier Celebrates "College & Community" Partnerships

Monday, May 12, 2008

From helping homeless people get back on their feet financially to teaching parents how to better read to their children, Whittier College students are adept at finding creative ways to give back to the community. 

This year about 90 college students from diverse majors partnered with 36 non-profit organizations as part of the College and Community Program coordinated by the Whittier Scholars Program and funded by grants from the McCabe Foundation and the California Campus Compact. 

"The program ties the college and community more firmly together and gives the students an opportunity to apply in real world context what they learn in class," said Joyce Kaufman program director. 

The annual College and Community Program celebration was held on May 3 to recognize the hundreds of hours of service provided by Whittier College students. Visitors had the opportunity to learn more about these projects via a student panel and poster presentations. Students and faculty were on hand to give greater detail about individual projects that included student-led initiatives, class projects, and work within established volunteer organizations. 

"The goal of the day is to recognize and celebrate the partnership between Whittier College and the community by highlighting the work that our students have been doing in Whittier and surrounding cities," said Kaufman. 

One example is a program led by Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a student club within the business department. The group worked with First Day Homeless Coalition which provides short-term emergency transitional housing and on-site support services to 45 individuals in the City of Whittier. SIFE put together a presentation to education homeless people on approaches they can take to establish their financial footing, with a special emphasis on ex-felons who have trouble finding jobs. SIFE members also organized a food drive.

"We were able to replenish their food stock and give them a month's worth of food," said Nadia Medina '08, SIFE member.

Medina was part of a student panel that included Karen Eisenhut '08, Leslie King '09, and Megan Wingo '08. The group spoke on community based learning and answered questions from the audience.

"Initially, all I knew was that I was going to be a 'wizard's assistant' and play video games," said Eisenhut, a volunteer with Fifth Dimension, a computer-based after school program in Whittier. "But playing computer games is only the beginning of what we do."

The Fifth Dimension program works to improve children's cognitive and social development skills through computer games and other programs. Children also work one-on-one with college students forming mentor- [Adjunct Professor Angle Rodriguez and social work students.] mentee relationships. "The personal connections with the children are so meaningful when you can see the difference it makes," she added.

One of the poster presentations featured a partnership between a social work class and Lydia Jackson Elementary School. The project involved getting parents of students at the school to participate in a weekly one-hour group session, where they would read a book and discuss it as a group. Parents then took the books home to their children for them to read and enjoy. 

"Parents reported that their children looked forward to the books each week," said Adjunct Social Work Professor Angel Rodriguez. "The purpose of the project was to give the students hands-on experience with clients. But more importantly, it was to increase the awareness of importance of literacy in the community."

Child development major Jessica Santoyo '08 volunteered at The Posada at Whittier, an assisted living center, taking on a very different age group than she is used to. "I taught an arts and crafts class. Before this, I didn't realize the physical limitations of the older people. Some of the men had arthritis and couldn't manipulate small things. It was an adjustment. I had to break the lessons down step-by-step." 

Santoyo, who is studying to be a nurse, wanted to get a feel for the age group. "I wanted to know something about their needs." 

The College and Community Program is designed to facilitate interaction between Whittier College and the Whittier community. The aim of the program is twofold—to encourage students to become more involved with non-profit organizations, and for members of the community to spend more time on the Whittier College campus.

Indeed, students at the event expressed a feeling of greater accomplishment going beyond typical classroom learning. 

"One thing I take away from this is the feeling of having a project of your own," said Medina echoing sentiments shared by other panel members. "You start from scratch, and when you see it executed, it's amazing."