Service Learning project combines volunteerism with education
Imagine this scenario: Mom and dad find they can no longer keep a roof over their family’s head and must tell their children they will be homeless. Now imagine the crisis made worse when the children learn there is no shelter where they can all stay together. Dad is placed in a men’s only shelter while mom and children are offered housing in a separate shelter. That scenario changes forever with this month’s opening of the community’s only family shelter, run by the Solutions Center (http://www.solutionsfdl.com/). The official ribbon cutting is set for April 25 at 9 a.m. at the family shelter location, 38 North Sophia Street. Making this development even more inspiring is the role a cadre of students from Moraine Park Technical College (Moraine Park, www.morainepark.edu) had in the process; those students will also be on hand for the ribbon cutting.
First, about the Solutions Center. This organization and its predecessors have been providing shelter for people in Fond du Lac for more than 40 years, with some 350 individuals sheltered annually, 150 of them children. Most come to escape domestic violence or after being evicted. The success rate of those individuals moving into permanent housing in the community is almost 90 percent. Shelter and other services including crisis counseling and legal advocacy are all provided free of charge.
Yet the Solutions Center had no shelter to offer to an intact disadvantaged family needing temporary housing while they got back on their feet. That need led them to purchase the home on Sophia Street back in December 2012. They immediately set to work refreshing and updating it.
“Fond du Lac has been without a family shelter since 2007,” said Lindee Kimball, executive director at the Solutions Center. “We’re keeping families together when it counts the most.” The home will house one family at a time, with the average stay expected to be 30 days.
Kimball offered thanks to the staff and students from Moraine Park for making the family shelter their service learning project for the semester. “I believe this sort of project will set a tone of volunteerism for these students for the rest of their lives and they will be part of the ongoing volunteer force in our community. Plus we learned so much from them as they brought a whole spectrum of education to us.”
Moraine Park, already on the leading edge of the service learning philosophy, recently formalized the effort under the direction of Brenda Schaefer, a social sciences instructor at the college who now has the added title of Services Learning Coordinator. Schaefer is passionate about this experiential approach to learning, which she’s been spearheading at Moraine Park for two years now, and that passion comes through the minute you ask her about the Solutions Center partnership.
“One of our goals at Moraine Park is community partnership, and the shelter project is a perfect example of not just reading or hearing about a concept but doing,” explained Schaefer. “The students chose this project after hearing a presentation by a staff member from the Solutions Center and it has opened their eyes to see that people in need are no different from all of us.”
Schaefer went on to explain that students across a wide variety of classes had a hand in the shelter. “One group of culinary arts students are preparing recipes to teach families about cooking healthy meals on a budget, another group of students from our HVAC program did an energy analysis and made repairs to the shelter. We also had students in sociology, early childhood, marketing and accounting participate. The connection between the classroom and real life is amazing.”
Echoing Schaefer’s sentiments was Dr. Caron Daugherty, Dean of General & International Education at Moraine Park. “The competencies gained in classroom learning are validated right in front of them as they are helping families,” said Daugherty. “It’s the melding of the two that makes this an especially meaningful situation for everyone involved.” Along with its own service learning initiative, Moraine Park is also a member of the Wisconsin Campus Compact, a coalition of college and university presidents committed to strengthening service learning partnerships between the state’s post-secondary institutions and the communities they serve in key areas such as literacy, health care, hunger, homelessness, the environment and senior services. The idea behind the Wisconsin Campus Compact is to educate students not only for careers but also for their roles as active, engaged community members.
Daugherty also noted that students involved in service learning projects will be presenting case studies of their work at a special breakfast at Moraine Park on May 2. Fittingly, culinary students at the college will be preparing the breakfast as a way to celebrate the students’ efforts in the community.
Other local organizations that have benefited from the services learning commitment by Moraine Park students include Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.