For the first time since the ’90s, the Agape Center will not be holding the traditional “Into the Streets” service day during Welcome Week.
Ashley Sheaffer, director of the Agape Center for Co-Curricular Service Learning, said her and her colleagues came together last year to discuss their concerns over Into the Streets. From those conversations, they identified two key issues – logistics and student learning outcomes.
“Transportation became an issue because getting 750 to 900 students to 40 different places became really difficult,” Sheaffer explained. “So just three years ago we made the switch to looking at Harrisburg schools. One year we also did Harrisburg parks. Those were arenas – those schools and parks – where we could send buses of students, and they could complete mass projects.”
However, those mass projects didn’t always produce desirable outcomes. Sheaffer said first-year students often came back with mixed experiences and reinforced stereotypes of Harrisburg.
“We all came together last year and said there are major concerns with Into the Streets,” Sheaffer said. “We’re not really sure what students are learning, we think they’re learning some good things, we think they’re also having some stereotypes reinforced. These experiences can be good, but they can also be a turn-off.”
Sheaffer also said the timing of Into the Streets didn’t give the Agape Center a chance to explain the needs of Harrisburg to a group of students who had varying experiences with the city.
“This year, our new strategy is we’re going to be doing more education on the front end,” she said.
Although first-year students will not take part in Into the Streets, the Agape Center has planned many other opportunities to get involved in service learning. At the morning chapel on September 6, Associate Professor of Christian Ministries, Stephen Gallaher will speak on the different aspects of service. At the evening chapel that night, the Agape Center will hold “breakout sessions” with their community partners for interested students.
“This way, we still want to get students involved, but we want the students who want to be there because that’s only fair to our community,” Sheaffer said.
There will also be a smaller version of Into the Streets called “Saturday of Service.” Saturday of Service will take place twice this fall – once in September and once in October. Students who sign up will work for 4-5 hours with the Agape Center’s community partners in small groups lead by a trained service leader.
Overall, Sheaffer hopes these new opportunities will promote more long-term service involvement. “The nice thing about this that’s different than Into the Streets is then students can get involved with that community partner,” she said. “It moves away from that one-time experience to be a more in-depth experience.”
The Agape Center will also take part in this year’s Opportunities and Service Fair instead of holding their annual ice cream social. All of the Center’s community partners will set up booths in the Union to offer students an outlet for service.
At the end of the day, Sheaffer wants the new programs to help build relationships between students and different groups in the community.
“I’d rather have a smaller number of focused students that want to get to know the women at Silence of Mary Home or whatever it is. I want that relationship.”
This is the third story in a series of articles devoted to topics relevant to first-year students. Check out the last article in this series on balancing relationships at home and school and check back next Friday for a new article in this continuing series.
Maddie Crocenzi, Editor-in-Chief
Pug lover, Christ-follower, runner and peanut butter enthusiast.