Friday, October 7, 2011

Mercy Housing Initiative, University Honors and Leadership (UHL) Program (CU-Denver)

This past summer, I volunteered at Grace Apartments in Denver, which is a property run by Mercy Housing, Colorado. Mercy Housing is a national organization with a nonprofit branch that operates affordable, program-enriched housing for people with special needs. At Grace Apartments, the residents are mainly refugee families. I helped with the summer program for the elementary school children whose families live at Grace. For this academic year, I am interning with Mercy Housing as well.

When I started this semester, I decided to bring UHL students as volunteers together with the children at Grace; I wanted them to work in the afterschool programs offered at the apartments. I was encouraged by and had the full support of the UHL program coordinator and director. Generating interest in community service and involvement within our program has been difficult, so I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Surprisingly (and happily!) over 30 students were interested in volunteering, so I was able to create a full volunteer schedule for this month and next. UHL students will be volunteering biweekly, on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. On Tuesdays, three to four students will help the children with homework and tutoring. Wednesdays are the free time in the afterschool program, so UHL students are bringing their talents, interests, and hobbies to the table to teach the children.

On the 28th of September, we held our first special event. A UHL senior taught the children to skateboard. They were most excited because Josh, the volunteer, had managed to get 25 boards donated for free. This meant they each got to keep their own board. By all accounts, it was quite the success! The kids had tons of fun and both Josh and the friends he brought to help teach told me they hadn’t ever taught kids this excited before.

As we get into the full swing of things within the next few weeks, I’m anxious and excited to see where the kinks are, what they are, and how I will be able to work them out.

Advice, questions, and comments are welcome!

Ingrid Hoff

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bennion Elementary Library Rennovation Project by Westminster College

     The following summarizes a service project our honors program engaged in earlier this year:

     To help get us started on our service project, we contacted our on-campus Center for Civic Engagement. While chatting with the nice folks at the Center, we learned of Bennion, a local low-income elementary school with a library in disarray. We talked to the principle and visited the school to see what could be done. In the library, we saw piles upon piles of books waiting to be processed and put away. The faculty lounge annexed to the library had not been used in ages because the school had used it to store broken or outdated technology (like VCR's), classroom supplies, and books. It was a mess. The librarian informed us that she was struggling to keep up with her duties due to health problems. We decided she could use some extra hands to help her get back on track.
     A group of Honors students volunteered their time to reorganize the library. With the librarian to direct us, we worked our way through boatloads of books. We entered books into their computer system. We split into teams, covering, labeling, and shelving. After we finished for the day, we were pleased with what we had accomplished, although we acknowledged that there was still much to be done (like clearing out the faculty lounge).
     We wished to continue our work so we set about arranging a visit to the library with another group of volunteers. Unfortunately we were unable to organize follow ups with the school because we could not keep in touch with Bennion. We found it very difficult to get in contact with our connection there, the principle. He did not respond to emails or return phone calls. We finally did speak with him, but he was not interested in the continuation of the project. We were surprised by this and disappointed that we wouldn't be able to sustain the work we had started.
     We reflected that we had underestimated how difficult our project would be. It seemed like it would be relatively simple (just putting away some books), yet it proved to be quite difficult to orchestrate the project with the elementary school. Furthermore, the work itself consumed much more time than expected. Since the principle made little effort to work with us, we concluded that we may not have been as needed as we had thought. Although we feel like we can make improvements for future service projects, we are proud of the work we accomplished and are motivated to keep giving back to our community.