Service: An Expression of Thanks

ice creamEighth graders and their student Malone Mentors connected in the cafeteria over substantial amounts of ice cream.

 

Jennifer Hollinger, Director of Education Preparation Programs, Instructor

By Jennifer Hollinger |

As educators, we see and meet needs every single day. We give school supplies to students. We give support to families. We run copies for overwhelmed coworkers, or even donate money for colleagues who suffer tragedy. We lead food drives and adopt families to reach our community. Each day, we practice what Jesus taught giving our time, talent and treasure to others to store up, “a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted” (Luke 12:33-34 New International Version).

Frederick Buechner wisely wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, 118-119). Our special giftedness which brings each of us joy was intentionally gifted by God to steward for the good of His purpose – satisfying the world’s deepest need. Consequently, we must begin to view giving as more than action of outward service but additionally an act of adoring thankfulness that overflows out of our gifts.

As I reflected on this shift in thinking I was challenged to consider my service and myself more critically. First, where does my deep gladness lie? Second, as I scan my environment, how does this meet a deep need? Soon after my time of reflection, an obvious opportunity came to light to combine my personal passions and our Malone students’ giftedness to meet a huge need in the world.

As a former 6th-8th grade teacher and current university faculty member, I love middle schoolers and highly value education. Through both of my roles, I have always felt strongly that my job was an “equipper,” furthering each person who crosses my path towards his or her goals. When I was contacted by Jeanne McNeal, principal at the College and Career Readiness Academy @ Lehman to co-design an opportunity for 8th graders to become connected with college experiences, I knew without a doubt this was an opportunity for Malone students and me to use our passions and gifts to intersect a need in our community. Thus, the Malone Mentors program was born.

This college experience for 8th graders fulfills two suggestions from the research to support these future first-generation college students, a focus on the non-academic skills that are often taken for granted and allowing students to map out their path to graduation (Gray, 2013). The necessity of these interventions is highlighted by Gray (2013) in that, “For first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color, education is the one remaining single most powerful factor to bring about a different outcome for their lives” (p. 1246). However, only 56 percent of all first generation college students will complete their degree in six years (Gray, 2013). The issues of college enrollment and retention are not one of strictly academic abilities but a much more complicated matter that includes creating pathways for students to be able to fulfill their college desires (Nagaoka, J., Roderick, M., Coca, V., 2009). In a community where only about 20 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees and many students will be the first generation in college, this program fills a very real void (Ohio Development Services Agency, 2015).

During the 2014-15 school year, the first year of the Malone Mentors program, approximately 20 8th grade students visited Malone University weekly and were paired with a Malone University student mentor for their time on campus. Each week, mentors and students experienced a different college department or activity that connected them with new information and experiences. Students were introduced to application processes, financial aid, athletics, campus life, nursing, computers science, broadcast communication, zoo and wildlife science, social work, public relations, business, counseling, social justice, music, and education. Once these sessions were complete, mentors and students spent time building character and non-academic skills with time spent in small groups. These skills, as suggested by the research, are just as important as academics in ensuring successful transition and completion of college. Finally, the students and mentors ate together in the cafeteria creating personal connections and enjoying a substantial amount of ice cream.

The Malone Mentors program provided a platform to combine areas of personal passion for our Malone University mentors to meet a real need in our community. Each week we were able to invest our time and treasure in our community to create a pathway to college for this group of 8th grade students. While the cost of the program was minimal we were grateful for the support from an afterschool grant through the Canton City Schools, Leader’s Edge and generous private donors. Meeting with these middle school students and providing an opportunity for them to grow, learn and explore influenced their future but also allowed all involved to employ and express thanks for the gifts with which God has imparted to us. As the apostle Paul states, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor. 9:12 New International Version).

References

Buechner, F. (1973). Wishful thinking: A theological ABC. New York: Harper & Row.

Gray, S. S. (2013). Framing “at risk” students: Struggles at the boundaries of access to higher education. Children and Youth Services Review , 35, 1245-1251.

Nagaoka, J., Roderick, M., Coca, V. (2009) Barriers to college attainment. The Consortium on Chicago School Research at The University of Chicago, 1-27. Ohio Development Services Agency. (2015, July 1).

Ohio Development Services Agency. Retrieved September 12, 2015, from

http://www.development.ohio.gov/files/research/C1077.pdf

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