September 06, 2017 | Hannah Ebeling

Students serve at Cook Library Center in Grand Rapids.

September 1, 2017 marked Calvin’s 25th annual StreetFest, a one-time service-learning opportunity that occurs during the first-year student orientation program. During StreetFest, students partner with over 60 community organizations to join them in their work in the city of Grand Rapids.

This year, Abby Kroon, a rising senior, headed up the program as StreetFest coordinator. After helping plan StreetFest 2016, Kroon was excited about stepping up to her new role. “I think it’s a really cool opportunity to get out there and talk to the incoming class about understanding our place within the city of Grand Rapids as Calvin students,” she said. “It’s a great way to introduce students to that idea that service is not just about giving back, it’s about listening and understanding how service is shaping us.”

Learning to love justly

Kroon chose the day’s theme, ‘Love Justly: Commit to Place.’ As she was brainstorming, Kroon said she kept coming back to the idea of love and justice fitting together. “Love should not just be a feeling, it should be something that pushes us to pursue the flourishing of others,” she said. “When students went out for StreetFest, they visited organizations and agencies that have invested in their communities and shown a love and commitment to their neighborhood through service.” 

StreetFest kicked off with a chapel service where Abby shared about the theme. Students then went into breakout sessions where their Orientation Leaders (OLs) facilitated a conversation about love, justice, place and what service-learning means. As students went off to their partners, Kroon said they invited OLs to prompt students to be on the lookout for ways in which their community partners demonstrated a commitment to loving their place. At the end of the day, said Kroon, students reflected on their experience and hopefully started to think about what committing to place looks like at Calvin and beyond. 

Recognizing service as learning 

“I think service-learning is really important because, while you can learn a lot of things from reading out of a textbook, until you actually go out and meet people who are serving every day, it just doesn’t really become real,” said Kroon.

“It is important for students to see service as a part of their lives while they are at Calvin,” said Andrew Haggerty, associate director of the Service-Learning Center. “I would say service equips students to live out Calvin’s mission to think deeply, act justly and live wholeheartedly.” Haggerty said it is important to launch students’ careers with a mindset of service. “For us to do service, particularly on the first day of orientation, is a really great symbol that Calvin understands its place in Grand Rapids and wants to affect the city positively,” he said.

Encouraging listening and openness 

Haggerty said that past StreetFest themes have all emphasized going into a place of service with a posture of openness. “We have so much to learn from the people around us, from our city, from its history. We should always listen before we act or make decisions,” he said. “I hope students take away a posture of openness from this experience.” Kroon also hopes students will rethink their idea of service and come away from StreetFest understanding that service isn’t just about giving back, it’s about listening and learning.

StreetFest is hopefully an introduction that will provoke some curiosity and then lead to deeper levels of engagement later on, said Haggerty. There are lots of other ways for students to serve beyond StreetFest. One of the best ways for freshmen and sophomores to get involved is through their residence hall service partnerships, explained Kroon. Also, anyone can come to the service learning office to get paired with a non-profit organization.

Watching plans come together

“I am always so excited to see StreetFest come together and actually happen,” said Haggerty. “You spend so much time looking at spreadsheets and documents, so then, on the day of StreetFest, all of the students who have just been a name, start pouring in. It’s one of the coolest moments of the year for me and the student leaders who are seeing all of their summer work finally come together.”

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