Bridging the Gap

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Abigail Young, senior human services major

By Josh Earl
Geneva Magazine
, Spring 2008

On the basketball court in the Beaver Falls housing projects, a player driving to the hoop has more to worry about than just another player trying to block the shot. There′s also the stump to consider.

The neighborhood kids in Harmony Dwellings, which is located out of sight on the south end of Beaver Falls, make do with a court outlined in spray paint and pockmarked with potholes.

"The guys use that court all the time, even with its poor condition," says Abigail Young, senior human services major. "When they try to dunk, there is a huge stump that they wipe out on."

To fulfill her senior field experience requirement, Abigain is helping organize a renovation of the court. She is one of several Geneva College senior human services students that have taken on projects designed to help local organizations better fulfill their missions.

All human services majors have to complete a 270-hour, off-campus internship in order to graduate, and the college wants to ensure that the students aren′t the only beneficiaries.

"It takes a lot on the part of an agency to work with our students," says Stephanie Schindel, assistant professor of psychology. "It takes time to give them guidance. We don′t want to just take from the agencies-we want to give something back. We′re trying to look for win-win relationships where our students have valuable field experiences, but at the same time we′re giving back to the agencies."

Abigail′s internship is with the Beaver Falls-based Vision of Hope Center, where she works with children whose parents are in prison. When the center′s staff came up with the idea of rebuilding the basketball court, Abigail stepped up to get Geneva students involved. A soccer player and vice president of Geneva′s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Abigail is recruiting athletes to supply muscle for the project.

Abigail Young, senior human services major"The kids would love to work alongside Geneva basketball players," she says. Plans include ripping up the old court, installing an all-weather playing surface and possibly adding water fountains. "We want the kids to be able to take pride in having the best basketball court in Beaver Falls, so people will be coming to the projects to play."

Senior human services major Jessica Kramer is also looking to tap Geneva′s resources as part of her internship. Jessica is working with the Beaver County Mental Health Association. The association sponsors Compeer, a program that matches people who are recovering from mental illness with volunteers from the community. The volunteers work with the patients once a week to help them reacclimate to life outside a treatment facility.

Finding willing volunteers is a challenge, and the program has a waiting list. Jessica is helping to sign up Geneva students to fill that gap. The students attend events with the wait-listed patients, providing socialization and camaraderie. In March, half a dozen Geneva students and six patients aged 20 to 60 went to see "Horton Hears a Who."

"They enjoy getting to interact with younger people, because they don′t get to do that a lot," Jessica says. "A lot of their interaction is with doctors and other adults." She also planned outings to a Genevans concert and Golden Tornadoes softball game.

"We′re communicating to them that somebody cares about them. We′re communicating to them that they′re not abnormal, that they don′t have to be afraid to come out into the community and interact with people who are quote unquote normal," Jessica says.

A third human services student, Amber Rogers, is putting her research skills to use on behalf of Big Brothers Big Sisters. For her senior honors project, Amber wanted to do something that was a blend of research and hands-on experience. "I wanted to find a need that wasn′t being met and see if I could help," she says.

Big sisters are easier to come by than big brothers, she learned. "There are a lot of boys who want to be a part of the program, but there are just not a lot of males volunteering right now." The program has several dozen boys on a waiting list, and as many as 100 are waiting to get on the waiting list.

"I′m researching male volunteerism, trying to find out characteristics of males who volunteer, barriers to why they don′t volunteer, and successful ways of recruiting male volunteers," says Amber. "It will be something the agency can apply."

Amber is mining scholarly articles on volunteerism for practical advice to direct recruitment efforts. One barrier to male volunteerism is gender roles, she′s found. Volunteering is usually seen as something that a woman does. Men with families are focused on putting food on the table, and they don′t have the time or resources to volunteer. Social services jobs pay less than positions in other fields, so men don′t gravitate toward them.

To overcome these barriers, Amber says the organization needs to actively recruit men using a language that resonates with them. For example, marketing materials should show men doing "guy stuff" like playing football and video games. Men who are already participating in the program can give testimonials.

Amber is testing these approaches by trying to recruit men on Geneva′s campus. She′s enlisted communication students to create a five-minute Big Brothers video that will play while students are assembling for chapel, and she is planning to have current Big Brothers address their peers during several chapel programs.

These projects embody the idea of service learning, according to Stephanie Schindel. "Service learning is not just volunteer work," she says. "There has to be an educational component to it, where they look at what′s going on in the field and making the connection to course content."