Published on September 17th, 2012 | by Dave Whitaker
Service Fair Displays Real-World Opportunities
Dave Whitaker, Contributor
Michael Gates, Contributed to this story
On Sept. 6, the University Dining Room was transformed into a marketplace of community service opportunities, internship options and class project possibilities that can build character and a strong résumé. For the Office of Service Learning (OSL), this Service Fair, drawing students and faculty alike, kicked off another year dedicated to expanding the nature and number of service learning across the university.
Since it was established in 2010, OSL has facilitated community service activities for students, but it has also collaborated with faculty members in designing service learning courses and project components that can be built into traditional courses.
“It’s all about putting the school’s mission into practice,” said Beka Flanagan, as she moved among individually outfitted tables that filled the University Dining Room.
A 2011 graduate of Lewis, Flanagan is now an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assisting OSL and its director, Christie Billups, D. Min. In her final semester at Lewis, Flanagan enrolled in a Service Learning course. The experience left an impression. Through AmeriCorps, she found a way to stay involved after graduation. She is now in her second year with OSL and helped coordinate the Service Fair.
“This gathering is a chance for anyone to learn more about OSL and about the many opportunities to serve organizations in the community and beyond,” said Flanagan.
Lewis officials estimated that 1,138 of its students engaged in community service in 2010-2011. They have contributed their time and talent to organizations such as MorningStar Mission Ministries and Warren-Sharpe Community Center, both of Joliet and St. Leonard’s House of Chicago. These three were among 16 organizations represented at the Service Fair.
“Nursing students have provided health services and other Lewis students have organized clothing and helped send out mailers,” said Mary White, a coordinator of programs that support the homeless guests of MorningStar Mission. “They also offer encouragement to the men and women in our programs.”
At Warren-Sharpe Community Center, Lewis students have tutored at-risk youth, and at St. Leonard’s House, which operates a re-entry program for former inmates, students have tutored adults determined to complete or complement their high school education.
“We build relationships with our community partners,” said Billups, who has led OSL since its inception. “We visit the sites, get to know the organization’s leaders and develop a comfort level about where our students are going and what they are doing.”
Billups also works closely with faculty members interested in incorporating a service project into a particular course. For example, Lewis students in the Advanced Design course of Professor Leslie Colonna created an interior design plan for an elementary school in Bolingbrook last January.
“It was a real-word application of design,” said Colonna, who attended the Service Fair to scout out new opportunities with her current students. “The organization benefits from our involvement, and the students get a true hands-on experience that can help on their résumé and portfolio.”
The prospect of giving students a taste of the real world is also what brought Lisa Brown to the University Dining Room that Thursday. A clinical coordinator in the psychology department at Lewis, Brown was exploring internship options for the students she counsels. Both undergraduate and graduate students in psychology are required to complete an internship.
“I’m surprised by the diversity of organizations that are here,” said Brown, who is relatively new to Lewis. “It’s pretty convenient to get to connect with the larger community right here on campus.”
That’s just what Billups and Flanagan had in mind. In fact, OSL’s involvement in the 9/11 National Day of Service Event — organizing a group to cook a meal at MorningStar Mission or prepare food packages at Feed My Starving Children in Aurora — offered students and faculty the chance to step up and serve right away.