Service-Learning bridges gaps, bonds Riverside residents and students
June 19, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( www.lasierra.edu )As La Sierra University students Jason Ewert and Rey Lopez visited with retirement center resident Karen Johnson the past few weeks to discuss her memories of a national historical event, the trio eased into a friendship and the generation gap melted away.
“I think those kids are great. I’ve been bragging about them all over the place,” said Johnson, a resident at the 16-story Mt. Rubidoux Manor in downtown Riverside. “They’re so intelligent, they have manners, and they’re polite. I adopted them like my sons. …You can tell what kind of school they came from. Those kids really impacted me.”
“If more kids could get to know seniors they would learn a lot,” Johnson continued. “They’ve got a lot of wisdom if young people would give them a chance.”
During La Sierra’s seven-week spring quarter, 15 students gave the manor’s seniors a chance to share their wisdom and memories. And while the students’ initial motive centered on fulfilling requirements for the university’s Service-Learning program, many students and residents came away from the project deeply impacted.
La Sierra’s Service-Learning program marries classroom work with volunteer work two hours per week for a seven-week quarter at various schools, retirement homes, day care centers and other community organizations. Teachers assign journal writing, note-taking, final papers and other tasks by which students document the academic, psychological and emotional lessons they’ve learned.
Stephani Troyer, an English major who graduated on June 14, carried out Service-Learning requirements during the winter quarter at the Inland Empire Adult Day Health Care Center in Corona. She interacted with developmentally delayed adults. In completion of requirements for the Natural Sciences: Religion and Rationality course, Troyer wrote weekly reflections on aspects of the volunteer work she found surprising, on societal reactions to illness and the benefits of adult day care programs, and on what it must be like to feel disoriented in time and place.
In her reflections, Troyer documented her initial apprehension about interacting with the center’s clients and the fulfillment she ultimately derived from the seven-week experience. “It was all so fascinating. As I developed relationships with several of them, I grew attached. Something about their condition left me pained. But another part of me viewed it as a blessing in disguise,” she wrote.
“I went in thinking, ‘Okay, let’s get this over with,’ and I left with, ‘I’m really going to miss this place. … I wondered if the individuals there would sense that I was uncomfortable. They accepted me right away. …I am grateful for this experience. God put me there to increase my faith and to release my inhibitions,” wrote Troyer. “I would never have stepped into a place like that if it had not been for the class requirement.”
“The object of service learning in this course is to have students serve in facilities with participants that are sometimes on the margins of what we think of as rationality,” said Cindy Parkhurst, a Religion and Rationality teacher. “Steph was very concerned about how she would handle this task. It was gratifying watching her go from really not being sure she could do this to really enjoying her time there and putting enormous effort into her interactions with people.”
“La Sierra students have been absolutely a part of the engine that has kept this program going. We’ve had some of the most amazing students help out,” said adult day health care center Director Barbara Porter. “They’ve done performances and extra caring things. One helped a participant find a lost brother in Mexico. We absolutely want this relationship to keep going and growing.” Until this week, the Medi-Cal-funded center and others like it around the state faced closure as a result of California’s $24.3 billion shortfall. A legislative committee voted June 15 to keep the adult day care centers open, although the programs may face some funding cuts in the future, Porter said. While the center is mandated to maintain a staff-to-participant ratio, the La Sierra students provide additional one-on-one interaction that benefits the center’s clients, she said.
The La Sierra group at Mt. Rubidoux Manor this spring quarter completed Service-Learning assignments for a history class titled Religious/Moral/Social Aspects of History and for an environmental ethics class called Humans and the Environment.
History students were required to interview the residents about their personal histories, a significant historical event or a combination of the two. The students constructed final papers derived from their experiences and their notes. They integrated their oral histories with readings from the course that deal with issues of remembering, forgetting, faulty memory, people who are remembered versus those who are forgotten, said Lisa Kohlmeier, assistant history professor.
Environmental ethics students were required to interact with the residents on topics of environmental awareness.
Ewert and Lopez, part of the history class, interviewed Johnson about her memories of the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the overall events of the turbulent 1960s. Lopez wrote notes on paper while Ewert often typed notes into his BlackBerry. Like most people old enough at the time to be impacted by Kennedy’s death, Johnson remembered exactly where she was and what she was doing when she heard about the shooting.
“It was a total shock. I was at my mother’s house that day. She was in the basement hanging clothes.” Johnson was watching the news on television. She went downstairs to tell her mother what had happened. “I thought she was going to die right there on the spot. My heart was racing.” Johnson’s history lessons included taking the La Sierra students to the Kennedy exhibit at the Riverside Municipal Museum.
“The experience made me realize that there are lots of people who have great personal histories that need to be explored to gain a better understanding of history,” said Ewert, a senior history and pre-law major who also graduated June 14.
In celebration of new friendships forged and the completion of the spring quarter’s Service-Learning courses, La Sierra students and Mt. Rubidoux Manor residents held a luncheon on June 5 in the manor’s second floor dining room. Deisy Ruiz, senior office specialist with the city of Riverside and a 2008 La Sierra University alumna attended the event as a city representative.
“It’s hands down the best experience I’ve had all year,” said La Sierra history/pre-law major Brent Modell. During the Service-Learning program he visited with manor resident Donald Pethtel. “The two hours I’ve spent with this man every week were the best times of our lives.”
Pethtel expressed similar sentiments about his relationship with Modell and student Ron Mayron. “If my two students are typical of what’s out there for the future, we have no worries,” he said. “I learned to change my outlook on myself and how people see me.”
“He’s always looking to the future. That’s something that’s going to stay with me. It was a really good time,” said La Sierra biomath major Jennifer Hernandez of manor resident Robert Thomas. “He’s a very positive person and it rubbed off a little on me.”
Riverside Councilman Mike Gardner recognized the La Sierra students’ work at the manor during the council’s meeting on June 9 at Riverside City Hall. The meeting was televised on Channel 3.
La Sierra established the Office of Service-Learning in 2003. During the 2002-03 school year, 12 faculty linked nine academic courses and 11 course sections with four community partners and seven sites. This school year, more than 800 La Sierra students fulfilled Service-Learning requirements by serving at 21 community organizations, including various schools in the Alvord Unified School District. They carried out requirements for 30 wide-ranging courses including Religion and Rationality and Cell/Molecular Biology.
The university’s Service-Learning program is responsible in large part for the school’s national service-related awards. In December 2008 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching included La Sierra on its 2008 Community Engagement Classification lists consisting of 119 colleges and universities around the United States. In early 2008 and 2009 the Corporation for National and Community Service included La Sierra on the Honor Roll with Distinction, part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll program. The award recognized La Sierra’s students for providing approximately 45,000 hours of service, including those hours provided by the Service-Learning program.
In addition to his history project with Johnson, Ewert also worked at the manor with La Sierra senior art student and pre-dentistry major Michael Neglia to fulfill Service-Learning requirements for the environmental ethics class.
Ewert and Neglia took more than 200 photos of residents engaged in various energy conservation and other ‘green’ activities including riding a tricycle-type vehicle and installing energy efficient light bulbs. The students are using the photos to create a slide show. The manor will use the slides for various ‘green’ projects including its upcoming September event, the “Greater Riverside Senior Conference.” The conference, which the manor plans to hold annually, aims to educate seniors on the importance of energy conservation, global warming issues and other environmental matters.
“Out of this experience I learned that there are many people in this world, young and old, that want to make a difference in this earth we inhabit. No matter how old you are or what position you are in, you can make a difference,” Neglia said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University