Can you tell us about some of the other community organizations whom RA students serve through the program?
The Service Learning Program partners with many organizations in the community, including Ridgefield Meals on Wheels, The Center for Empowerment and Education, Danbury Habitat for Humanity, Ability Beyond, Rise Against Hunger, Filling in the Blanks, and Dorothy Day Hospitality House.
What type of shift do you see in a student’s perception of their community, their neighbors, and their overall educational experience as a result of participating in a service learning program?
It really opens up their eyes. Students sometimes don’t realize that many of the issues that they are learning about are also happening here, either in their own community or one right next door. Sometimes issues occur on a more subtle level than they might expect. For example, food insecurity doesn’t necessarily mean someone is homeless and doesn’t know when they will have their next meal. It also means that someone could have a job and own a home, but they just don’t know if they’ll have enough money to feed their family properly.
In that sense, the students begin to understand that someone they may know, a neighbor for instance, might be struggling with food insecurity or another issue, and they learn to understand that these problems are not just “outside” problems. It really broadens our students’ views and this new knowledge sparks their curiosity. Their curiosity drives them to learn more, and in turn they become more invested in their education. And it comes full circle when a student then drums up their own idea of how to contribute to a cause or help solve a problem they feel passionate about.