October 19, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Students are helping with the homework and hanging with the kids at Cook Library Center.

At the table in the middle of the large room, with children reading books and playing games all around, Wendy Tabler and Rosalita, are searching for pictures in magazines. Tabler turns a page and points to one photo. “Con que letra empieza la aspiradora?” she asks. (“With what letter does the word vacuum start?”)

“A,” Rosalita answers. Then she takes up her scissors, cuts out the photo and pastes it on a paper filled with other photos. And the search goes on. The pair—a first-year Calvin engineering student and a kindergartner at Cesar Chavez Elementary School—are looking for photos of things that begin with vowels in Spanish. Queso? No. Mariposa? No. Leche? No. Tabler turns the page and spots a pair of eyeglasses. “Anteojos,” Rosalita says, and she cuts and pastes that picture, too.

Muy grande,” Tabler comments. She enjoys her weekly sessions at the Cook Library Center, tutoring and playing with the kids who hang out there after school. “I love volunteering. I volunteered all through high school,” she said. Because her own dorm hadn’t gotten its service partnership organized yet, Tabler has joined up with the gang of students from the Boer-Bennink residence hall who lend a hand at Cook Library twice a week.                

A popular way to serve

“We have so many people who go, we’re thinking about adding a third day,” said Calvin sophomore Alicia Bos, one of three community partnership coordinators (CPCs) who organize the outings. The volunteers visit the library on Mondays and Wednesday afternoons. They help out with homework. They hang out and talk. They play checkers and chess and Sorry and Candyland—and sometimes soccer. They stay an hour or so. “It goes by really fast,” said library director Sue Garza. “But the kids love when Calvin comes. They just glom onto them, and it’s really great.”

The students form vital relationships with the kids at Cook, who represent grades kindergarten through college. “It’s one-on-one assistance and mentoring,” said Garza. “It goes way beyond homework help.”

Language is no barrier—though Cook Library is located on Grandville Ave. in the heart of a Hispanic neighborhood.  “I’ve had only a couple of the kids who don’t speak English,” said “The majority of them speak Spanish at home.”

The Cook Library is one of 11 partnerships maintained by Calvin residence halls with local organizations. Each dorm or apartment is paired with an agency. Students tutor, mentor and run after-school programs for Oakdale Neighbors; Grand Rapids Dreams; Ready for Life: Horizons;  North End Community Ministries Supper House; the YMCA; Friends of Grand Rapids Parks at Garfield Park; Roosevelt Park Christian Reformed Church; Programs Assisting Refugee Acculturation (PARA); Campfire USA at Burton Middle/Elementary School and Campfire USA at Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy.

“This partnership between Calvin and the agencies is so important, so crucial,” said Jerry Fondse, the interim director of the college’s service-learning center, which coordinates the partnerships. “It is important for Calvin students to do this to enhance their engagement with a larger world—especially recognizing that they have much to learn from the larger world.”

Keeping it going

Keeping the whole enterprise spinning are the CPCs, students employed by the service-learning center to maintain the relationship between Calvin and the agencies. “I have three CPCs this year, which is phenomenal and surpassing my expectations, as usual,” said Garza. The CPCs coordinate the volunteers and supervise the weekly service outings and other events—some of which bring the community on campus.

Next week, the kids from the Cook Library Center will participate in Light in the Night, the annual Halloween event sponsored by Calvin’s Knollcrest East apartments. “We’ll eat in the dorm rooms and go trick or treating,” said Garza. “That gives them an environment to be safe in too because many of the parents don’t allow their kids to go trick or treating in their neighborhood.”

Several of the college’s residence hall partnerships with local organizations have been around a long time, and Cook Library may be one of the longest. Calvin students have been working at the library since it had a different name, and it was headquartered in a house a few blocks further up Grandville. In 1997, when the library was just a few years old, a Calvin religion major began helping out there twice a week, tutoring and mentoring the children. It was the basis of the service partnership Boer-Bennink residents enjoy today.

“I kind of plan around this,” said sophomore social work major Laura Diemer.

“It’s just nice to get off the Calvin campus—out of the Calvin bubble—and become a part of the community,” said Bos.

Wendy Tabler and Rosalita

A friendly debate

Library director Sue Garza

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