Learning to help

Learning to help

October 24th, 2009 by Randall Higgins in News

Staff photo by Dan Henry Marla Shelton, left, and Mani Hull, executive director of the Tennessee Campus Contact, receive food from participants in a Campus Compact meeting at Lee University's Leonard Center on Friday. Twelve college campuses participate in Campus Compact encouraging volunteer community work.

Staff photo by Dan Henry Marla Shelton, left, and...

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Just months after getting their college degrees, some of Tennessee's youngest adults are putting their own plans on hold for a year to serve communities surrounding college campuses.

Some AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers from across the state spent two days at Lee University this week to prepare themselves for a year of service to the less fortunate, all on less than $860 a month.

At midday Friday, Lee students served lunch to the volunteers and site supervisors from a Salvation Army canteen truck. William Lamb, director of the Leonard Center that coordinates Lee service learning, said the Salvation Army loaned the truck that can be used for university programs or staffed by Lee students at disaster sites.

Kyle Hinch, who graduated in May from Lee University, plans to become a pastor.

"How can you be a leader in a community if you have never served a community before?" he asked. He said students have learned about impoverished people living just blocks from the Lee campus.

"I've come to believe rural poverty gets overlooked a lot," said Andrew Lauber, a VISTA volunteer at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn. "Urban poverty is a serious problem too. But people in the foothills live their lives unnoticed."

"It's kind of amazing what you don't see when you are not looking," said Emily Goepel, serving at East Tennessee State University and working with that region's Hispanic community.

Service learning has become part of higher education in Tennessee. Campuses such as Lee have required students to dedicate some time to service for several years now.

But last year 30 Tennessee colleges and universities organized the Tennessee Campus Compact, an umbrella group that links their service learning programs in a bigger network.

Communities where Tennessee College Compact campuses are located are the beneficiaries, said Jerry Herman, executive director of the Tennessee office of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"The bottom line is the increase in service," he said.

"The organizations that oversee all the universities in Tennessee expect all their universities to interact with their communities. VISTA is just around in the early stages of the Campus Compact to help them do that," he said.

Tennessee Campus Compact Executive Director Mani Hull talked to the new AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers Friday.

"President Obama's administration, because of his own background, is pouring more money into community service," she said.

"Many of these young people will become our nation's leaders," Ms. Hull said. "If they have never seen a neighborhood in poverty, or a child growing up in poverty, how are they going to develop programs or projects that are inclusive?"

Tennessee created its campus compact in 2008, the 33rd state to do so. Since then, two more states have formed compacts.