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November 28, 2000

Calvin Dorms Partner in GR

Each year, before classes even begin, Calvin College introduces its freshman class to the city of Grand Rapids via a project called StreetFest. First-year students go out into the streets of Grand Rapids for a variety of volunteer projects, everything from cleaning streets to sorting clothes to serving meals.

Calvin's stated purpose is to teach its students, from the first moments they are Calvin students, that one of the goals of a Calvin education includes making a difference in the city. So, does it work? Does StreetFest have an impact beyond just one day?

Recent collaborations between Calvin and community organizations suggest it does. Calvin's dorm partnerships are one example of the on-going relationships between Calvin and a variety of community organizations.

The partnerships, which are organized by the school's Service-Learning Center, began in 1995 with one residence hall. Today, just five years later every Calvin College residence hall has a partnership in the Grand Rapids community. One dorm has a homework club in which Calvin students work with children from Urban Produce in Grand Rapids. Another works with Baxter Community Center and sees Calvin students helping run Baxter's after-school program. Yet another dorm partners with Grandville Avenue Library on various after-school efforts such as reading programs.

Courtney Battjes, a sophomore psychology major from Grandville, (pictured above) helps coordinate the partnership between her dorm, Rooks-VanDellen, and the Baxter Community Center. The program runs after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with different themes each day. Battjes says the goals are simple: to build mentoring relationships with the children and to build cross cultural friendships.

Steven Hall, a sophomore elementary education major from North East, Penn., coordinates the partnership between his dorm, Boer-Bennink, and the Grandville Avenue Library. Each day after school neighborhood kids show up to hang out with the Calvin students. Hall says "consistency is an important part of what we do," adding: "We want the kids to have someone to count on each day." Hall changed his major to elementary education and says his work in the partnership has strengthened his decision. "I just love the kids eagerness to learn," he says, "and the way they love as true friends without being concerned about the superficial things that can bother older people."

All told there are a half dozen partnerships between Calvin dorms and local organizations with activities taking place day after day and week after week. But these partnerships are just the tip of the iceberg at Calvin. The Service-Learning Center's figures suggest that almost 1,000 students are involved in service efforts at some point during the typical school year.

The dorm partnerships are supplemented by such efforts as Calvin's deep involvement in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program, visit programs to the elderly and shut-ins, engineering work for such organizations as Goodwill and federal work study programs that see Calvin students connected to such organizations as Home Repair Services, Eastown Ministries and the Grand Rapids Service Corps.

The Service-Learning Center at Calvin is using as its theme in 2000-2001 the rhetorical question "Who Is My Neighbor?" Via the dorm partnerships students at Calvin are learning that there neighbors are not just next door in the dorms, or down the block from Calvin's campus, but rather that they reside throughout the city. And the lessons of StreetFest continue.

--with reporting by media relations writer Andrew Heffner (class of 2004)

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Contact Phil de Haan.