Each year, freshmen and transfer students partake in service learning as a part of their first-year seminar “Faith, Reason and Justice” class. Megan Acedo, Coordinator of Student Ministries and Service Learning at Eastern of nearly six years explains the program as the lab or practicum section of a seminar, and says that it is “Designed to allow students to put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom and bring those experiences back to the classroom to sort of debrief them and discuss them so that it informs what happens in their learning experience.”
However, the program is more than a requirement for a course. According to Acedo, students provide around 720,000 hours of service in the greater Philadelphia region, which equates to an economic impact of over $170,000 a year. Students can serve in a multitude of ways throughout the semester, such as doing home repairs for low-income families, working in after school programs and serving the homeless.
This semester’s service-learning kick-off day took place on Saturday, September 15. Freshmen and transfer students filed into buses to volunteer at UrbanPromise, one of many service learning program partners, to help prepare for the school year by caring for practical needs on their campus.
UrbanPromise works to provide students in Camden with all the life skills, academic knowledge and Christian thought that they need to thrive. To do this, UrbanPromise hosts summer camps, after-school activities and opportunities for faith development. The ministry also operates their own elementary and middle school called CamdenForward, as well as UrbanPromise Academy, which is a private high school that focuses on students who may be falling behind.
Acedo started the day by explaining what UrbanPromise is, what their work does for the community and how the projects done that day would help the ministry. Other UrbanPromise workers also spoke, including Founder Dr. Bruce Wayne, Director of Children’s and Youth Ministry Siomara Wedderburn, Director of Operations, Tom Wayne and Eastern Alumni Tony and Albert Vega, Director of Camp Freedom and Program Director of Camp Joy & Creation respectively.
From there, students were released to begin their work. Some cleaned the kitchen, some worked in the gardens and others repainted the yellow paint on the curb. Some groups loaded back onto the bus to do at off-campus sites that UrbanPromise owns. Those groups did projects such as cleaning out buses, as well as working in the thrift store and intern housing.
“I really liked service learning,” said transfer student Colleen Miller. “It was nice to go into the thrift shop. I helped tag clothes and it was rewarding to see the progress we were making as we put more clothes out on the racks. As we tagged, the woman in charge of the store was able to interact with the customers and connect with the community more.”
My group was assigned to work on cleaning and tidying the basement, specifically a large closet bursting with costumes, games and toys. The group of six women worked together for two hours cleaning shelves, sorting through the closet’s contents and reorganizing everything into new, orderly spaces. The toys in the closet are used as prizes for the annual carnival UrbanPromise hosts and in a Christmas shop where families are given UrbanBucks to spend on gifts for the holiday.
Before bringing us into the basement, our group leader explained what we needed to do and told us to expect dust, mouse droppings and general disorganization. Though sorting a closet did not initially feel like ground-breaking service, I realized what kind of impact it could have on the staff there. Instead of spending time sorting or digging through to find what they may be looking for, they can spend their time doing the more important work of helping and loving the individuals that come to them.
UrbanPromise has a unique partnership with Eastern, based out of their similar ideals – to provide quality learning environments where students can grow both academically and spiritually. To help advance this mission, Eastern University guarantees students, faculty and staff of UrbanPromise a scholarship for half of the tuition costs, as well as 25% tuition grants for graduate students of Campolo College. UrbanPromise students are also invited to attend open houses and information sessions at the University to help prepare for college, while Eastern students are given the opportunity to practice their faith in service learning through UrbanPromise in Camden, NJ.