Colleges uniting for service effort

By Bobbie Hayse Messenger-Inquirer | 

Area colleges and universities are pushing forward with a united effort to provide students easier access to volunteer opportunities.

This is just the beginning for the Owensboro Service Coalition, but its current members hope that by the fall semester, interest and student numbers will grow.

The coalition began after Jay Helmer, associate director for the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning at Kentucky Wesleyan College, realized he wanted the CETL to further enter the community engagement arena and find ways to incorporate students in such projects.

The CETL seeks to change the teaching and learning environment by “serving as a catalyst for increasing active-learning experiences and community engagement throughout the curriculum and through co-curricular activities,” according to the KWC website.

As Helmer met individuals involved with nonprofits in the area, he realized there were a lot of opportunities for service for the community’s college students.

“There are four of us in the higher education space here,” he said, referencing Brescia University, Owensboro Community & Technical College, KWC and Western Kentucky University-Owensboro.

From there, he discussed with the CETL Director Christine Salmon how to organize a group service effort between the colleges.

“We all came together to talk about what community engagement work (we) were involved in, and how we could best collaborate to use our collective resources as effectively as we can,” he said. “With that kind of came the very beginnings of a conversation about what we could do, and all of this kind of came about.”

The Owensboro Service Coalition has already started organizing some events. So far, they are planning to become involved with Brescia’s annual service project day that this year is set for Nov. 4.

Patricia Lovett, the director of student activities and leadership development at Brescia, said that BU students already have a strong focus on civic engagement and giving back to the community.

Each year, students participate in singular and group service projects that orient with their major.

Students in the school’s First Year Experience also participate, and since many of those haven’t yet decided on a focus of study, they are part of a generalized service day that includes helping the Owensboro/Daviess County Habitat for Humanity organization, Lovett said.

This year, Brescia is inviting other students involved with the Owensboro Service Coalition to take part in its annual day of service. The students will either work with Habitat or participate in a communitywide trash pickup.

The school is also organizing a particular service that will help individuals in need of yardwork, particularly the elderly or disabled, Lovett said.

“When Jay came along (with the idea for Owensboro Service Coalition) it was a great fit for us,” Lovett said.

Lewatis McNeal, the OCTC associate dean of student affairs, said he thought it would be a good opportunity for students to partner, and the colleges to partner, together for a great cause.

“All of our students are part of this community,” McNeal said. “We are trying to find ways to help them connect with the community, or reconnect back with the community through a type of service learning.”

He works with a program also called First Year Experience that seeks to prepare students for college success as incoming freshmen or transfers. His plan is to incorporate service projects with the First Year Experience and to hopefully grow the number of students who can be involved with the coalition.

At this time, there are from 10 to 15 students who will be involved, but that number could grow to more than 100 or possibly even 200.

“We hope to pick up a little more traction in the coming weeks and months,” McNeal said. “We are hoping to bring all the colleges and universities together to participate in one major event in the community. We think that would be huge.”

He said this collaboration is a “very positive thing,” because when students come together to work for a great cause, they stand to make a bigger difference. They also will have the opportunity to get to know other Owensboro college students.

Kevin Dorth, WKU-O coordinator of student services, said this will provide students and WKU staff members a chance to get to know one another better.

The school already has a good working relationship with OCTC, and this will provide more access to the other two schools in Owensboro, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of liberal arts students at our campus,” Dorth said. “We are kind of hard sciences, and getting to know (others’) backgrounds, different walks of life and worldviews would be a good experience (for our students).”

He said there are a lot of service-oriented students and organizations already in place on campus, and some degree programs require service projects for graduation.

“Anything that’s going to provide opportunities for our students to be actively engaged in the community is something we need to be a part of,” he said.

Helmer said that he hopes citywide service events can eventually take place with the four colleges at the helm.

“This is the kind of thing that we are really trying to lay the groundwork for, so that this collaboration can grow in the future,” he said.

For more information about the Owensboro Service Coalition, contact the CETL at [email protected] or 270-852-3254.

Bobbie Hayse, [email protected], 270-691-7315, Twitter: @BobbieHayseMI