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October 23, 2000

Calvin Works Via Federal Program
 

This year 26 Calvin College students are making a difference in west Michigan, while earning money for college.

In fact, they'll earn almost $50,000 via service oriented jobs at such local organizations as the Grand Rapids Youth Service Corps, the Dispute Resolution Center, Eastown Ministries, Home Repair Services, the Christian Learning Center, Safe Haven Ministries, Dwelling Place, Grand Rapids Childrens Museum and more. It's all part of the Federal Community Service-Learning Work Study Program, a nationwide government/university effort coordinated on Calvin's campus by the school's Service-Learning Center.

Calvin has participated in the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program since it began in 1965 as part of the Higher Education Act. Its purpose was to give financial aid for college students and at the same time improve the community. However, most institutions interpreted the act quite loosely, using FWS funds to pay such jobs as student dishwashers. Congress took notice and in 1992 it passed an amendment requiring colleges to use at least five percent of FWS funds for community service activities. In 1998 it was upped to seven percent and a requirement to participate in a reading tutoring program was added. The money for the program comes from both the federal government and from Calvin (which is required to match 25 percent of federal funds).

Rhonda Berg, director of Calvn's Service Learning Center, says the program is a good one for both Calvin and for the Grand Rapids community.

"Students gain valuable experience," she says, "and they get paid to do so. Local organizations get talented and skilled labor without having to put a dent in what is often a small budget. It's a good program on both sides."

Calvin students agree.

Luke Bosma, a Grand Rapids native, began volunteering last year at the Dispute Resolution Center, a private, non-profit community service organization that offers people involved in a dispute an alternative to going to court.. This year he is there as part of the Federal Work Study Program. He has given presentations, helped write grant letters and worked with interns. Currently he is setting up new case-management software and training staff to use it. He enjoys both what the work brings to him and what it means to the people who use the Center.

"When people walk in to a mediation, they see little or no hope for the situation," he says. "When they walk out, they're smiling, shaking hands, just better off. And working at the DRC deals directly with my criminal justice major. I have made countless contacts within the state's criminal justice arena. I'm gaining experience and skills."

Other Calvin students say that their FWS positions have little to do with their major. But they're valuable experiences nonetheless.

Christie Rebba, a native of Vernon Hills, Ill., is a business and communications major. She works as coordinator of Easttown Ministries' America Reads program and has fallen in love with both the program and the children she sees every week. Her program includes 25 children (in grades 1-5) and 23 tutors, who work with the children twice a week.

"Those children are my heart," she says. "I would do nearly anything for them. This program is my way of doing something that I love to do."

The organizations students are working with in Grand Rapids as part of Federal Work Study include:

America Reads
Campfire Boys and Girls
Ottawa Montessori
Easttown Ministries
Christian Learning Center
Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan
Dwelling Place
Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Grand Rapids Youth Service Corps
Home Repair Services
Safe Haven Ministries-Ramoth House

Calvin's Service-Learning Center connects Calvin students with over 100 Grand Rapids organizations during the course of a typical school year, including federal work study, semester-long academically based service learning partnerships and one-time partnerships.

--with reporting by media relations writer Abe Huyser-Honing (class of 2004)

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Contact Phil de Haan.