February 21, 2017 | Jacquelyn Hubbard

“Colleges exist in communities—we take resources, cause traffic, eat at restaurants—so whether we know it or not, we [at Calvin] are each a part of Grand Rapids, and we have an impact on the city. Therefore, it is essential for us to have sound partnerships within the city so that we’re benefitting the community as much, if not more, as we are benefitted."

Some of these sound partnerships that Andrew Haggerty, associate director of Calvin’s Service-Learning Center, referred to are housed within the Calvin College Residence Hall Community Partnership Program (RHCP), which recently received its first ever award.

Best Practice Award

This February 2 to 4, the annual Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Students Values conference was held at Florida State University, where the RHCP was awarded the Best Practices Award.

Individuals nominate college programs for the Best Practice Award, which are then reviewed by a national panel of reviewers. This is the seventh year for the award and was previously received by The University of Southern Mississippi, Gonzaga University, United States Air Force Academy, Virginia Tech, Northern Michigan University and Alverno College.

Each year, more than 200 students, faculty and professors from 20 to 30 schools gather for the institute’s conference to discuss one common goal: preparing present and future students to become engaged individuals of integrity.

With an hour-long presentation at the conference, a few Calvin representatives were able to share how Calvin has been preparing students to become engaged individuals of integrity in the Grand Rapids area through the RHCP.

22 years of community partnership

The initial steps toward creating the RHCP began in 1995, when Boer-Bennink resident Michael Fleming started volunteering at the Cook Library Center in Grand Rapids by reading with students and helping them with their homework.

"Between 1995 and 2000, folks in the Service-Learning Center (SLC) started getting other dorms connected with partners, too,” Haggerty said.  

Twenty-two years later, RHCP includes seven partnerships, one per residence hall.

Abby Kroon, student coordinator of the RHCP, works with the community partnership coordinators from each of the seven residence halls.

“The RHCP program offers students who are living in the residence halls a chance to serve and learn in a Grand Rapids neighborhood,” Kroon explained. “Because our residence halls partner with organizations, we are able to offer a stable pool of Calvin students to our partners. When students go out and serve at their community partnership, they are given an amazing opportunity to learn from community members and hear their stories.”

Testimony from the Cook Library Center

Sue Garza, director of the Cook Library Center, attended the conference with members of the SLC. The center’s library has books in English and Spanish, and offers after-school homework to students on a drop-in basis. Boer-Bennink residents volunteer there Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4-5 p.m., with an average of 30 kindergarten through ninth grade students a day in attendance.

Garza remembers when she first started working at the center in 2005, volunteers from Boer-Bennink made a positive impression on her when they purchased three desktop computers for the center with funds from a service auction.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this isn’t the traditional partnership that I’ve seen with a college,’” Garza said. “And through the years, the dedication from the community partnership coordinators and volunteers, plus doing all their homework on top of that, has amazed me. Every year, Calvin has been a tremendous blessing for us.”

Students that attend the after-school program are also taken to Calvin once or twice a year to experience a college students’ world, just like Boer-Bennink residence experience theirs.

“I really think that Calvin has had a huge hand in increasing the literacy of our neighborhood,” Garza added. “A lot of students come in and out of the library and need someone to pay attention to them. In turn, they receive positive role models.”

A commitment to Grand Rapids

Despite resident hall students spending the vast majority of their time on Calvin’s campus, the RHCP encourages students to think of how they can engage with and serve their Grand Rapids community.

“We really value committing to where you are—your city, neighborhood or place. [The RHCP] gets newer students off campus and helps them be mindful that they are in a greater context in Grand Rapids, and should be active residents,” Haggerty said.

“For Calvin, our mission is focused on equipping students to think deeply, act justly and live wholeheartedly—so to have sound partnerships gives students the opportunity to learn about that mission, and to practice it,” he added.

Although the fickle nature of a college schedule can make student volunteers a burden on organizations, the RHCP is designed to work around this issue.

“Connecting residence halls as entities to our community partners is what remedies the issues with the changing dynamics of a college student, ensuring stability and consistency so that partners can count on Calvin students showing up year after year,” Haggerty explained. “That is what I think the hallmark of this program is: stability and consistency.”

National recognition

As a smaller institution, this recognition has been all the more rewarding, according to Haggerty.

“It has been fun to share the news so students can feel proud of what they’re doing, and feel like they are part of something that has a history bigger than their role this year,” Haggerty said. “It also connects people who have been a part of the program throughout the past 22 years.”

“We’d love to see more students involved—it’s a really incredible program that students learn a lot from,” he concluded. “We’re satisfied with how strong the program is, but there is always more synergy that can happen.”


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