State Farm/Youth Service America grant helps students bring beauty to Bate-Wood
For several years, Centre College students have devoted countless hours to giving Danville’s Bate-Wood Park a face lift, and on Tuesday, April 19, those students got a little help from local schoolchildren. With a State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning/Youth Service America grant, the Centre tutors volunteering in the current afterschool programat the College headed to the park with their students for an afternoon of gardening and service.
The afterschool program, which has taken place since the beginning of fall term, is a service project run by Centre’s Bonner Scholars and the College’s community-based learning program. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Centre volunteers offer instruction and entertainment to children in English-as-Second-Language (ESL) classes and the Migrant Education program at local schools. While many of the participating ESL students speak Spanish, there are also three French-speaking students, two Ukrainian students and one Chinese student taking advantage of the program.
Centre students know that not all learning takes place in the classroom, and they were eager to teach the young students about service in the outdoors. The Bate-Wood service event was part of this year’s Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), the largest service event in the world and the only one celebrating the contributions that youth make 365 days of the year.
“Basically, the Bate-Wood workday was side-by-side service-learning,” says Kerri Howard, coordinator of Community-Based Learning through the VISTA Americorps Program. “The Centre students and their pupils all went out to build benches, plant flowers and host a cookout with the residents there. Overall, the event was centered on mutual respect and empowerment; our students and the children went to Bate-Wood in order to serve, but they also went to listen and to learn.”
Part of this learning consisted of reflection, which took place before and after the service activity. Through this exercise, the local schoolchildren had the opportunity to discuss questions such as Why are we doing this? Who are the people we’re helping? What is civic engagement? After the service day is complete, the students asked themselves questions such as What was different from our expectations? What impact did we have? What did we learn?
“The reflections included some sort of writing and/or drawing activity, depending on the child’s age and ability,” Howard says. “Josh Hardesty ’13 and Alex Ginn ’11, the leaders of the Bate-Wood team, visited the program on one of those days, and the other day a resident of the Bate-Wood community will hopefully come talk to the kids. By the end of the semester, every ESL student and their tutor will make a scrapbook page that we’ll combine together in one big album.”
The outing, she believes, was “a transformative experience for all involved. It not only provided a valuable service to a local neighborhood in need of community support, but also taught the program’s participants—children and youth who are themselves too often on the receiving end of charity and social services—that they, too, have skills and talents to give back to their community.”
Brittany Corrigan ’11, one of the Centre students volunteering as a tutor, agrees. “I’m really happy to have helped empower our kids and show them that they have the ability and skills to help other people,” she says. “It’s really special to take students who are usually singled out for needing aid or service and give them an opportunity to help others. It transforms service from something to be ashamed of into something to be proud of.”