September 26, 2002

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Antioch students reach into town through community service projects

When Cheryl Keen, the director of the Center for Community Learning at Antioch College, talks about the successes of Antioch's Community Responsibility Scholars (CRS), Americorps and Bonner Scholars programs, her face lights up. For someone unaccustomed to the abbreviations, acronyms and miscellaneous lingo surrounding the programs, a discussion with Keen can sometimes seem like it's taking place in another language.

She is willing to slow down for a moment to put the entire program in plain English, but only for a moment. "People here want to get involved with the communities they live in, they don't want to or have to wait for their first co-op to start to do it," Keen said.

The college recently began promoting its community service programs more aggressively because there are more opportunities inherent in CRS and Bonner scholarships than just "helping out around the neighborhood and earning money," she said. Participating students get money for college ranging from $5,000 up to $10,000 every year, but, more important, they develop the skills to become contributing members of a society, to spur initial feelings of altruism into concrete action.

As one anonymous student wrote about her experience: "In my time with the Antioch Literacy Corps [part of the CRS program], I feel as though I benefited almost as much as the kids I tutored. I feel I have boosted self-esteem and the desire for educational self-betterment of all the young people I encountered, especially those who taught me how to communicate the splendor of the written word."

CRS Coordinator Lori Warfield said that the biggest asset of the program can also present its biggest problems. "The greatest success of CRS is the number of committed students we have on our hands. The greatest problem is coordinating all 300 of them," she said.

Warfield said the program has increased the number of Yellow Springs sites in which Antioch students work this year.

While the CRS program provides scholarships for Antioch students, the requirements for these scholarships consist solely of "community betterment." Only entering and transfer students can qualify for the program's three scholarships: the Jewel Graham scholarship of $10,000 every year, which requires a student to perform 70 hours a term of community service; the Algo Henderson for $7,500 for 60 hours; and the Olympia Brown for $5,000 for 50 hours. The college uses its own money along with what Keen refers to as "soft money," or money from outside agencies, and foundations, to support the program.

The scholarships are self-reinforcing in a way, and make Antioch look more attractive for potential students who care about their communities. Plus, Antioch is paid back in the sense that students often accomplish much through community service.

The Bonner Program is based more on need than the CRS or federally funded Americorps, providing 40 students a year with financial assistance for college in return for 10 hours of community service a week. The program is available to students at dozens of colleges across the country, not just Antioch.

According to one of the mission statements for the CRS program: "We share economic, social, racial, gender, environmental and cultural experiences and concern with people in the surrounding communities as well as the rest of the world." Keen puts it another way: CRS and Bonner students are reaching into Yellow Springs, surrounding areas and beyond so that "Antiochians' time, energy and gifts can be channeled."

When asked about the biggest success story of community service at Antioch, Keen spoke of the program formerly known as Next Step located at the Springfield Urban League and Community Center which provided tutoring, alcohol and drug prevention services and counselling. Due to fiscal mismanagement, several sponsors cut the program's funding last spring. The Antioch students working for Next Step at the time went to the hearings and meetings, trying to provide proof that the grants should not be pulled. Eventually members of the Springfield community with help from the Antioch CRS scholars formed a new group which relocated at the Springfield Metro Housing Authority, where currently up to 100 children come through the doors every day.

The long list of the CRS and Bonner scholars' achievements also include Antioch student Kelly Connolly, who traveled to South Africa to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, and Jessica Gutfruend, who purchased school supplies and hand-delivered them to school children in Ecuador who could not afford them.

In Yellow Springs, CRS and Bonner Scholars work at over 20 different organizations, including the Community Children's Center, the Senior Center and almost all the other nonprofit organizations in town.

Steve Cavanagh and Katie Brody, first year CRS students who volunteer at Corner Books, have already helped organize a peace rally in Dayton and are in the process of setting up a movie night at the bookstore. "The CRS program definitely helped me settle on Antioch," said Brody, who also works for the Federal Work/Study Program and does "service learning" for a sociology class she is taking this term.

Cavanagh said he wants one of his co-op jobs to be with a community service, nonprofit organization, though he added that he has other plans, too. His first co-op will be with the circus, he said. "Then I'll do community service."

Another student working in town, Marcus Brehvik, a fourth-year, volunteers at the Community Children's Center as part of the Americorps program. He started last May and has already completed over 200 hours working with children.

As he poured more milk for a group of 5-year-olds and shared vanilla cookies, he talked about his experience with the program. "I've worked here and at the Springfield Precious Gifts Daycare Center," he said. "I'm not even sure how many hours I've got altogether. It doesn't matter."

-Michael Hogan Jr.