March 01, 2006 | Myrna Anderson

The Service-Learning Center at Calvin College will celebrate its 40th anniversary from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 9 in the Great Hall of the college's Prince Conference Center.

The 40th anniversary bash will feature 1992 Calvin graduate Jennifer Marcum, currently the executive director of Safe Haven Ministries, a Grand Rapids organization providing support and refuge for victims of domestic violence. Marcum worked for the Student Volunteer Service (predecessor of the Service-Learning Center ) from 1988 through 1992.

“It's a celebration of a program that takes students out of this relatively detached college environment and into the city of Grand Rapids,” says Service-Learning Center director Jeff Bouman of the upcoming event.

Calvin's Service-Learning Center (SLC) has blossomed since its genesis in the mid-1960s, as has the mission behind the service it provides.

It began in the fall of 1965 as Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students (KIDS), a tutoring program in the city's schools.

“Early on, it gathered tons of traction. It was popular,” Bouman says of KIDS.

Down through the decades, the center grew its staff and expanded its programs, adding mentoring relationships, emergency moving services, hospital volunteering, blood drives, Big Brother and Big Sister programs and work study opportunities.

In 1980, the name of the center was changed to Student Volunteer Services (SVS).

“It was like a club then, but they were doing interesting types of service,” Bouman says.

The center also developed two annual events: Streetfest, a three-day service orientation for incoming Calvin students that puts them to work in an array of inner city organizations, and the Spring Break Trips, which places students in service opportunities in Tennessee, New Mexico, Mississippi and elsewhere.

In 1993, the Student Volunteer Service became the Service-Learning Center.

The name change signaled a more significant change on the part of the college, Bouman says, a recognition that service should be integrated into the college curriculum.

“For 27 years, students did it for no credit,” Bouman explains. “We still do everything we've done since 1965, but now we have between 35 and 50 courses each semester which integrate service-learning.”

An education course that places students in literacy-building partnerships at Alexander school and a biology course that teaches students to eradicate non-indigenous Michigan plant species are two examples of this approach.

“The mechanism is in place for faculty to think beyond their textbooks," he says. "Faculty are pointing students toward the community as a text.”

Calvin students gain as much as they give through service-learning Bouman maintains.

“It is exposure to the other," he says. "Students who serve, learn better, and students who learn while they serve become lifelong servants.”

The Calvin Service-Learning Center has become a model in higher education. Bouman says he fields a lot of calls from colleges and universities about how to implement a similar program, and has consulted with colleges across the country, from Gordon College in Massachusetts to Azusa Pacific University in southern California and Baylor University in Texas.

And in the 2006 edition of U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges, Calvin's service-learning model was singled out as one of the “Programs to Look For.”

Yet, says Bouman, who assumed the directorship in 2002, the service-learning center has remained true to its roots.

“I'm finding out how much the original spirit of that KIDS program is central to what we're doing,” he says.

Bouman himself served at the center in his student days and in 1987 earned the first Volunteer of the Year Award.

The March 9 celebration will honor the whole evolution of the center's history.

“We'll do a slide show that will include all the eras," he says. "The KIDS era, the SVS era, the SLC era. It's going to be a bash.”

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