Penn State Intercom......October 5, 2000


Volunteer Darcy Babcock, an accounting and international business student, cleans a play area outside of the Children's Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia. Babcock was one of a dozen students who traveled to the center last year during the first Penn State Fall Break Urban Experience.

Volunteering an essential part
of the Penn State experience

By Amy Neil
Public Information

Instead of visiting friends and family, 25 University students will spend fall break expanding their awareness of social issues through community service in Philadelphia. They will be participating in the second annual Fall Break Urban Experience Service Weekend Oct. 6 -9, coordinated by the Council of Lion Hearts through Penn State's AT&T Center for Service Leadership.

Students will spend their extended weekend working with agencies and programs that advocate for underprivileged and under-represented people. They will leave for Philadelphia after classes on Friday, and begin their workday at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Students will be taken to various service sites, including the Crittenon Family Support Center, which runs intervention programs for children, and the Eliza Shirley Salvation Army Center, where they will prepare and serve meals for the homeless. Some students will help construct a house for Habitat for Humanity, while others will serve meals and read to clients at the Brotherhood Mission. Students will revisit these sites on Sunday.

On Monday, students will do yard work at the Francis Cope House and play with children and clean at the Peoples Emergency Shelter. A group of students will be going to Temple Continuing Care to walk patients to rehab services and then help with the soup kitchen at the Mercy Hospice.

In addition to volunteer projects, students will participate in discussions to reflect upon their service experiences and expand their perception of how they can contribute to the lives of others.

"Students will be challenged not only to give of themselves, but also to consider ways they could work toward the improvement of social conditions for all people in the future," said Matt Ishler, graduate assistant in the AT&T Center for Service Leadership. This year's volunteer corps also will include students from Penn State Abington and Penn State Delaware County, in addition to the 25 students from University Park.

"Last year was the first time we have attempted a trip like this. We took 12 students for an overnight trip. They spent the day cleaning and repairing the Children's Crisis Treatment Center, a day facility for preschool children who experienced or witnessed violent crimes," said Carol German, director of the AT&T Center for Service Leadership.

Lakshman Yapa, associate professor of geography and a recent recipient of the Penn State Award for Faculty Outreach, said volunteer service is important to the personal growth of students as citizens. Yapa's student service-learning project, "Rethinking Urban Poverty: The Philadelphia Field Project," combines volunteer activities with academics.

Sponsored by the Department of Geography and The Schreyer Honors College, students in the Urban Poverty program spend several weeks in the summer in West Philadelphia doing community service projects and learning about urban issues.

"Among the more important innovations that President Graham B. Spanier has introduced at Penn State is the initiative to create educational projects that integrate teaching, research and service," said Yapa.

As part of their service, the students gain new knowledge by producing research papers that directly address problems identified by members of the community.

"Students who have participated in this project have told me that the opportunity to live in the inner-city encountering the routine everyday happenings of shopping for food, taking public transport, being aware of safety and simply relating to a diversity of lifestyles, has been a defining experience of their lives," said Yapa.

According to German, many students have little or no understanding of the issues and conditions associated with urban poverty.

"We hope that students in the project will develop a new frame of reference to apply while considering issues such as urban hunger, homelessness and unemployment," said German. "Students come face-to-face with a level of need they have never seen that opens opportunities for discussion on how to create social change."

Student involvement in volunteer work and community service is an important educational component at Penn State. A recent University survey indicates that 57 percent of Penn State students have done community volunteer work since arriving at the University, at an average of more than two hours of volunteer work a week.

In 1999, two class-free days were added to Penn State's academic calendar, to help reduce the stress levels of students. The two-day break does not apply to University faculty and staff, who are expected to keep normal business and office hours.