George Monsma has mentored a Streetfest group almost every year since the program began in 1993. “That would have been soon after we returned from Africa,” he muses, referring to a three year leave from Calvin’s Economics department, during which he served as a management consultant to the development bureau of the Association of Evangelicals in Mali, West Africa. His interest in development work prompted him to study economics at Calvin and Princeton University, where he got his PhD. George returned to teach economics at Calvin from 1969-2006, but continued to pursue service as well. “I always had an interest in more direct involvement, and my wife shared that vision,” he says.
Like the Monsmas’ term of service in Mali, George’s involvement in Streetfest stems from a desire to connect classroom knowledge to the outside world. He appreciates the opportunity to connect students to the Grand Rapids community and establish a different relationship with them than is typical in a classroom setting. Together, he and his students serve and reflect—often at Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church, where the Monsmas attend, or elsewhere in the Baxter Neighborhood. George has served on the board of the Baxter Community Center, and currently serves on the board of Jubilee Jobs out of the BCC building.
His involvement with Jubilee Jobs spans several decades. George has used academically-based service-learning in his classes since he served on a 1993 faculty committee that recommended its implementation at Calvin. His labor economics students often did their ABSL with Jubilee Jobs in conjunction with academic study of employment theory. Jubilee equips under-resourced young people with job skills and financial literacy. “Standard theories of unemployment didn’t really capture the situation of many people who were unemployed,” he says, citing barriers like addiction, criminal history, and family obligations. His students journaled about the ways in which the theories proved accurate or inadequate.
George notes that the students who pursued service-learning came to better understand the situations of a population with which they had little prior firsthand experience. Many of his students were business majors pursuing careers in management or human resources, and he hoped to cultivate “an awareness and concern for this population”—those with barriers to employment—that his students could take into their future careers. He found ABSL a helpful strategy to “fulfill Calvin’s goal of teaching and learning for Christian service in God’s world.”
Service-learning was part of George’s teaching for more than ten years. Since 2006, it’s been central to his life in retirement. In addition to serving on the Jubilee Jobs board, he volunteers with the Micah Center. But learning, academic or otherwise, remains central to his life. George takes classes with the Calvin Academy of Lifelong Learning. And every year, he participates in StreetFest, so he can keep teaching students to serve and learn, and continue to serve and learn alongside them.