Deborah Walker

Deborah Walker at Streetfest 2003

"Most of my memories of the Service-Learning Center are about the thoughtfulness, and the reflection and discussion. People just made this a part of their life, I think,” says Deborah Walker.  For her and her fellow staff, the S-LC was more than a workplace, and the work more than a job—it was part of each individual’s dialogue of faith. Growing up in Detroit with two preachers for parents, “I was used to these rich conversations each week, studying the Bible and applying it to your life, so when I came to Calvin, I was looking for that.  I think the community feel in the Service-Learning Center and the reflection we did about what it means to serve and to be a learner—all those things fed me.”

Community and conversation emerged as themes in Deborah’s experience of service, fostered both in the office and its Grand Rapids network. While organizing food drives as a student coordinator, she noted the valuable collaboration between community partners and local organizations, combining resources to address the many layers of food insecurity and homelessness. Around the office, she participated in discussions about theological and historical perspectives on the Bible and about current issues and events. “I was humbled here because people knew so much,” she says.

Deborah received a double education at Calvin, at the S-LC and in the teacher training program.  As a Math Education student and Academically-Based Service Learning coordinator, she developed “the mindset that there’s always something to give; you shouldn’t just be taking in life. Your actions impact the world. I see teaching as service, and that’s the biggest thing I think I’ve done that’s a gift to the world.” Deborah went from Calvin College to the Mustard Seed School in Hoboken, New Jersey, a K-8 institution intentionally serving a socioeconomically diverse population, and from there to the Harlem Children’s Zone, which comprises 100 blocks of Central Harlem and a comprehensive cradle-to-college approach to combatting poverty.  Deborah teaches sixth grade math at one of the Promise Academy charter schools. “There’s a lot of passion there. Everyone’s around the mission of getting these kids to go to college and combatting poverty and expanding people’s worlds, because a lot of people in New York—if you live in a certain borough, especially if you’re born in poverty, you don’t get beyond your block or beyond your borough,” she says.

As her world has expanded, from Detroit to Grand Rapids to Jersey and NYC, she also broadens the horizons of her students. “Teaching for me is an act of service, just interacting with kids and finding ways to love them and let them know they’re cared for and they matter… this is something I love and I’m passionate about but… it’s me giving something to God and giving something back to the world, in a way. That’s what I learned here that I take to every place I go.”

“Calvin is all about being present,” Deborah says, “being present in your society and being present in your life and being present in whatever you do.” She quotes the Calvin motto: “‘I offer my heart promptly and sincerely’— I’m here to serve and I’m here to give because I have this connection to God, and the Service-Learning Center can be the hands and feet of that. It’s great to think about these things and talk about them and reflect on them, but this is where you can find a place to actually live out those ideals or desires and hopes of serving and giving your heart to God.”

BY KATIE VAN ZANEN