Classroom Stories

Sterling strives to develop leaders

Psychology Service Projects Completed with Joy

A Christmas Blessing for Sterling family

By Arn Froese

At a teaching conference this fall, I heard a paper suggesting that service projects can produce outcomes not anticipated by those who design such projectrequirements. Some projects reduce student desire and commitment to complete future service. The presenter, Harold Rodinsky, noted that a key factor in projects with successful outcomes was real contact between the service provider and the service recipient.

This semester, four students completed service projects in psychology that involved them directly with service recipients. The students were Amanda Bean, Justin Lewis, Lazerrick Young, and Jenny Zaid-West. The students spent the first month of the semester examining their deep commitments, and reading about civic and professional expectations about serving one's community. After choosing and completing their projects, student reflections supported the effectiveness of these projects for enhancing their commitment to service habits.

Amanda Bean chose to provide a positive experience with the local police for youth in the Sterling area. She coordinated collecting children's books being discarded by the local library and other personal collections. She then arranged a time for the Sterling police chief to attend a book distribution event at an after-school program. Amanda's organizational work included contacts with local libraries, the local police, and Karla Wilhite, the director of the after-school program. At the book distribution event, each child selected 4 books. They were intent on reading for the time our class remained there assisting with the distribution. The students' faces reflect some of the joy we all felt.

Amanda commented on her project, saying, "At the end of the semester, I received a sense of what it means to serve others. I have also put all the skills that I have learned from my psychology classes into use in my project. Plus I actually went outside my comfort zone and I will be able to step out more since I had to step out for my project. This project was a lot of hard work and time consuming but at the end, it was definitely worth it. If I could do another service project, I would in a heart beat."

Justin Lewis worked with the same group of students that Amanda served with the book distribution project. Justin volunteered time with these students as they regularly met after school. Justin saw this project as a time to break down barriers some students had created, and to implement skills in management, as the children were quick to test limits with any new "authority figure." Justin was with us at the book distribution event, and helped students with reading their new books. Justin commented about his experience saying, "I've learned that it is my responsibility as an American, a Christian, and a human to give. . . . I came into this without a real desire for service, but after reading, learning, and experiencing the true joy that comes with service I've changed. I'm a part of a predominantly individualistic generation and it's very evident in the drastic decline in volunteerism in the United States. Before this class I never saw myself as one to volunteer, but I now understand the importance of donating time."

Lazerrick Young developed a project that demanded great organizational skills. He developed a "Christmas Blessing" drive to provide gifts for a family that had suffered great loss during the past year. His work required contacts with local pastors, school officials, and campus administrators. First, he identified a family with the assistance of church and school leaders. Then he organized a donation and gift drive from the Sterling College community. His efforts included distributing information about the drive, organizing teams in the residence halls to collect donations, managing money with protections against misuse, communicating his ideas to the family, and communicating family information to the community. Lazerrick's work culminated in a moving chapel experience. He spoke of the connection between his project and his faith, his experiences, including the fear of actually knocking on a door to ask for contributions, and his joy at the overwhelming response by the community as Sterling College gave its blessing to a mother and two daughters who had lost their husband/father, and father/grandfather in the past year.

Jenny Zaid West volunteered at the Sterling Presbyterian Manor. Her work included assisting the activities director in activities provided for the Manor residents. These activities included badminton played with a balloon from wheelchairs, bingo, manicures, and soda shop time. In selecting her project, Jenny said, "I thought maybe I should just make myself do something I was uncomfortable doing. It is sometimes through discomfort that I have learned some of life's good lessons." Jenny developed a sense of the worth of every life as she confronted cheerful residents with limitations that sometimes made them dependent on others. When she had completed her required service hours, Jenny faced a difficulty she described this way. "The last day I needed to volunteer to fulfill my hour requirement was bittersweet. I had planned on saying goodbye and closing the chapter of volunteer work at the manor. I attempted to justify this by telling myself that I did not want to do it in the first place. It was bingo again. . . Suddenly, it became apparent that not only had I impacted these residents, but they impacted me also. So at the end of bingo, I did not say goodbye to anyone. I did not tell the residents that it would be my last day. This is because I did not want it to be my last day. I decided that I wanted to keep coming as much as I could."

All four of these students reached beyond their comfort zones, choosing to do what was difficult, what reflected their deep commitments, and what added value to a community in which they had been included for their years at Sterling College. Each of them made personal contact with the recipients of the service. Each also made sacrifices, and each of them gained a sense of the value of what Robert Putnam calls "social capital."

During the final meeting time, I gave each of them a cross, formed from a spent bullet casing picked up by people in Africa whose lives are torn by violence. Those people cut and pounded the metal into a powerful symbol of peacemaking. Through their service projects, these students participated in the great peacemaking effort to bring people together, to build bridges instead of walls, to serve each other and build a better society.