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Jennifer Davis' Reflections

 

 

 

 

 
I desired to be a part of the CPS community because I believe that if nothing is done or discussed about social issues our society will become even more fragmented and isolated. Only by having an open mind and a willingness to be uncomfortable in the process of learning from others will any progress be made. CPS facilitates the creation of partnerships and relationships, both of which are the building blocks needed to break divides down. I feel that you should never stop learning, and this is especially true for social justice issues. To believe that you know all the answers and have nothing more to learn is a dangerous way of thinking, an attitude as harmful to yourself as it is to society. CPS was a perfect opportunity to continue my personal learning and to associate with like-minded peers.

I have learned so much in my year and a half working at CPS, but I long to learn more. In that time, I have become much more aware of local and national issues and the interconnection between seemingly different issues. My open mind and the learning I have gained have made me an advocate for certain issues and an ally for others. I have become more confident in my own knowledge and have begun to reach out to educate and encourage others to strive for social justice. By working at CPS, I hope to become more of an activist, advocate, and ally for social justice issues I am passionate about. As a Program Coordinator, I hope to continue to grow as a professional, but more importantly, as a community member on a more personal level by being open, understanding, aware, and willing to recognize that I don’t know everything and will always have room to learn. I am not sure what else I will learn through CPS, but I know I will learn more than I can imagine and I can’t foresee who I will grow into, but I know it will be a positive change.

As a PC for El Centro, I work with my fellow coordinator to recruit and organize around 120 college volunteers for the 30 children at El Centro. We provide an orientation for the volunteers at the beginning to the semester and a reflection during the semester. We keep track of all the volunteer hours using a spreadsheet and provide this information to professors of service-learning courses periodically. Two days a week I work at El Centro, facilitating volunteer-child interactions, working with children who have no volunteer for the day, leading group activities, and working alongside the staff at El Centro.
Community partnerships, the core of Center for Public Service programs, strive to be mutually beneficial – fulfilling both a community-identified goals and providing a learning experience for students. Program coordinators serve as liaisons between the Adams County and campus communities to ensure a solid partnership. 


EXPERIENCE

My community partnership has been a growing experience. El Centro was waiting for funding from grants to come through at the beginning of my first year there and is still undergoing a transition of leadership as they search for a new director. Communication is the biggest challenge with the shifting leadership at El Centro. As part of my job, I am onsite at El Centro twice a week for a total of 4 hours. While I’m there, I facilitate volunteer-child relationships and work with any children who don’t have a volunteer. After the volunteers leave, I play games and talk with the kids during free time, and then help out with the educational activity for the day, such as a craft, science project, or read-aloud. Through these hours at El Centro, I have gotten to know all the children and continue to work on building lasting relationships with them that are based on trust and mutual respect. I enjoy spending time with the kids, whether it be talking with the middle schoolers, playing games with the first, second, and third graders, or helping the 4th and 5th graders to complete all their homework in time for free time.

 

 
LEARNING

The mission of El Centro focuses not only on providing educational support and enrichment to children in need, but also on providing a stable environment that encourages each child to excel in life by having self confidence in their own abilities. Through my work at El Centro, I have gained a better of understanding of why there is a need for programs that provide extra support and opportunities for children who are minorities as well as the societal systems that create this inequality. I have also witnessed the strengths of the community served and have begun to form relationships built on reciprocity and respect. Through my work with volunteers, I help to guide the volunteers toward greater understanding of the community and as well as show them how they can advocate for social change. My learning at CPS influences and deepens my understanding of the general circumstances of the families at El Centro which helps me build deeper relationships with the children, since I understand where they are coming from. This understanding helps me relate to each child and to learn about their personal experiences.

After learning about immigration in various ways, I am better able to understand the need to leave one’s home to immigrate to the US to work hard all day for an unlivable wage, living a life too often filled with stereotyping and discrimination based purely on one’s race and heritage. At El Centro, I can see the many different effects that this situation can have on children. The negative effects I see in the kids, like anger, prejudices against other races, violent thoughts, and low self-esteem, are really what motivate me to work with the Latino community to eliminate discrimination and racism towards migrants, immigrants, and Latinos in general. If at this young age, children have such personally damaging, harmful behaviors resulting from isolation and discrimination because of their race and ethnicity, we as a society need to change the system so that when this generation grows up our country will be more united, rather than more fragmented. Through my community partnership, I am now able to see my experiences and observations at El Centro as part of a larger social context. Now I can delve deeply into the issues of education, immigration, and poverty surrounding El Centro and think more critically, question our societal beliefs, and work towards social justice in this aspect. Last spring, I went on an immersion project to Mexico where we learned about migration and education while experiencing culture first hand through our host families. The understanding I have gained from that trip also informs my work at El Centro, giving me an insight into situations in Mexico, where most of the families from El Centro are from.

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 Learning Circles aim to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to develop trust, understand each other's experiences, explore social issues and work together for long-term change. For 2007-2008, there are three groups focused on race, class and migration respectively. Jen focused on migration.


EXPERIENCE

During my first year as a program coordinator, I was part of the migration learning circle. Our main focus was education through discussion and experience. To accomplish that, we spent time meeting with members of the community, from migrant workers and a grower to a legal aid lawyer and migrant education programmers at the LIU. On campus, we participated in the Expressions of Justice common hour with a reading of two poems, in English and Spanish, about migration from a child’s eyes. In the spring, we viewed the documentary American Harvest by Angelo Mancuso and talked with him about making the documentary. We also attended a panel in conjunction with the movie showing that brought together many different groups concerned with immigration policies to hear their points of view on the public policies surrounding immigration and to spark community dialogue about immigration and migration in Adams County. To bring the year to a close, we tried to formulate our own immigration policies by discussing the needs of the farmers and migrants, as well as the needs of the country. The meetings with the community were complimented with group discussions about media biased current events, the effect of migration on education, the difficulties of obtaining a work visa or permanent resident card, and the current public policies governing migration.

This past semester, I attended two learning circles. In the sustainability learning circle, our focus was learning about just sustainability, which is the intersection of the sustainability and environmental justice movements. Every month, we met with the Adams County Local Foods network, a group composed of community members and growers to look at food access in Adams County. Mark Winne, the author of Closing the Food Gap, spoke about food insecurity and the millions of Americans who are unable to access healthy foods, as well as the partnerships and public policy changes that can improve the food system. After his talk, college and community members joined for a local action planning meeting, sharing ideas about the gaps in the Adams County food system and how we can fill them as a community. We talked about not only the right to food, but the human right to healthy food. We looked at grassroots communities that are creating a sustainable future in their own backyard. Julian Agyeman, a just sustainability activist, was the Fall Convocation speaker. He spoke about reframing issues so both movements can work together.

I attended eRace: Gettysburg Dialogue for Campus Unity as my race learning circle. We meet every Friday afternoon to engage in frank discussions about race, racism, and white privilege in a friendly, safe environment, in order to share experiences and recognize breakdown stereotypes and prejudices in the community and ourselves. This semester we focused on how to be an anti-racist activist, and the associated struggles. We practiced interrupting racist comments, talked about the election, discussed the stereotypes of HIV/AIDS, and spoke with Agyeman about his work after convocation.

 
LEARNING

During my time at CPS, I have belonged to three learning circles: migration, race, and sustainability. While each circle focused on a separate issue, through my learning with each group, I have come to realize how inextricably linked these issues are and how important self education has been in reaching the realization that these issues can’t be looked at in isolation. Only by seeing the interconnections and addressing the relationships can progress be made. Immigration and the desire for sustainable communities are linked, as are migration and race, as are racial justice and sustainability. You can’t talk about one without addressing the all the other issues that go hand in hand. For me, the most meaningful learning has come from hearing about injustices firsthand, no matter the learning circle or issue area. Hearing people speak about their struggles makes the issues very real and that motivates me to advocate for change.

 

     
 
 Through the Center for Public Service, Program Coordinators support student volunteers through education, training, reflection, communication, logistical coordination and the fostering of community/campus partnerships.

EXPERIENCE

Leadership is an integral part of my work as a liaison between volunteers and El Centro. At the beginning of each semester, our focus is recruiting volunteers. My co-Program Coordinator and I contact Spanish and Latin American studies professors to recruit students from their classes, post messages to the student digest, and email past volunteers. We then provide orientation, either in-class or via email. Ongoing support is provided onsite at El Centro by my co-PC and me. Later in the semester, we hold a reflection session to provide an opportunity for the volunteers synthesize and understand their experiences at El Centro as part of a larger social context and to help them start to think critically about the issues faced by children at El Centro. This fall, we joined with the other tutoring program coordinators to hold a larger joint reflection session, so the volunteers could dialogue with students doing similar work at different community agencies. Each day at El Centro, my goal is to lead by example in my interactions with the children and with the volunteers.

As a member of the CPS team, I have been able to develop my leadership skills in other areas outside of my program. In the fall, I was a member of the Fall Convocation committee, in which I helped organize logistics for Tim Wise’s visit in 2007 and Julian Agyeman’s visit in 2008. I was also a member of two hiring committees last year: one for the office manager position and the other for the new program coordinators. This has provided me with an avenue for sharing my story about CPS and helping to promote social justice on a basic level through my interactions with candidates during interviews. This year, CPS joined the student facilitator of Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board (GRAB) to lead pre-orientation trips for incoming first years. I had the opportunity to work with another CPS program coordinator to lead a 5 day trip learning about Housing and Poverty in Adams County, and in the process learned a lot about how to be an effective group facilitator.

 
LEARNING

I have had many leadership positions in the past, so leadership has always been one of my strengths. The most challenging aspect of the leadership for me this year and a half has been being a leader for my peers, especially while encouraging reflection and critical thinking. I have always been shy, so it was hard for me to overcome that and be a leader for other volunteers since they were my own age. It also took me a long time to realize that even though I am still educating myself in social justice issues so I don’t have all, or even most, of the answers, I still am capable of leading peers in reflection and critical thinking about themselves and to gain understanding of the bigger picture. While working to help others understand social issues, I have been deepening my own understanding of these issues in the process. In this way, my leadership abilities are always challenged, since each group of volunteers helps push me to greater understanding, as I support them and dialogue with them. Co-leading the six first years on the ASCENT pre-orientation trip this fall helped me become more comfortable about being a leader among my peers.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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 Through experiences with the Center for Public Service, Program Coordinators have the opportunity to connect with community, develop professional skills, and find a supportive environment to discover their voice in social change.

EXPERIENCE

In my mind, CPS equals experiential learning, not only for the volunteers but also for the staff of program coordinators. Not only do we talk about social justice issues like globalization, sustainability, race, class, and gender in our biweekly full staff meetings, we have the opportunities to put into practice social justice activism with our programs. My job as a liaison between El Centro and the service-learning classes that send students to volunteer has given me the unique opportunity to use my own learning about the social issues at El Centro to engage and lead the volunteers in reflection about the issues surrounding the children, and in self-reflection about what they have learned from the experience. Keeping spreadsheets of the volunteer hours, managing our budget, and communicating in person and through email with the professors, volunteers, and El Centro and CPS staff members has helped me develop useful organizational and professional skills. At El Centro, I am able to practice my Spanish speaking skills as well.

Through frequent meetings with my advisor, weekly gatherings of my learning circles, discussions at staff meetings, and personal reflection in the form of multiple reports and journals each semester centered on relevant topics, I am able to better educate myself about social justice issues and learn to articulate my thoughts on these issues more eloquently. I use self-reflection in order to form my own opinions based on the facts and stories I have read and heard, but also independent of those biases. I also use self-reflection to assess what I have been doing successfully and what I can improve on. Much of this reflection happens after my experiences, especially when I am synthesizing the information to write the reports and journals. 

 

 
LEARNING

My experience at CPS is hard to put into words and I cannot totally reflect on what I have learned, because through all the discussion, reflection, and experiences, I can’t separate out who I was before I started working at CPS and who I am now because the two have become thoroughly enmeshed. I feel changed on some deeper level that I can’t quite identify or express. In my time at CPS, I have become much more aware of local, national, and international issues and the interconnection between seemingly different issues. My open mind and the learning I have gained have made me an advocate for certain issues and an ally for others. Building relationships with all the children at El Centro gives me real life examples of social justice issues like education, immigration, discrimination, racism, and poverty, issues that we have talked about often in meetings. Since I see these issues affecting the lives of kids at El Centro every day, I have become a more passionate advocate for these issues and have begun to reach out to educate and encourage others to strive for social justice. I have learned to work with and value the contributions of people with many different backgrounds and perspectives, and have grown considerably from having the opportunities to dialogue with peers and staff who are similarly committed to advocating for social justice. The staff meetings, advisor meetings, learning circle gatherings, reports and journals, and afternoons at El Centro provide opportunities for me to grow and better understand fellow humans and the society we have created, opportunities for me to work toward social justice in an active way with support from peers and professional staff. I have grown as a professional through my experiences, but more importantly, as a community member on a more personal level by being open, understanding, aware, and willing to recognize that I don’t know everything and will always have room to learn.
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