While many students make an effort to avoid the notorious Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, other students are adjusting to the neighborhood through their service learning projects. To help students become familiar with the community and to make the most out of their service projects, the Office of Service Learning and Community Action employs several students as advocates for community engagement (ACEs) to act as “a liaison between students, teachers and organizations”, said Devon Davey, a senior international studies major and an ACE for the Glide Foundation, a homeless community center located in the Tenderloin.
The Office of Service Learning recently hired eight advocates for the 2009-10 school year, which will make it the largest team of ACEs. Brisa Rojas, a senior sociology major and an advocate for the St. Anthony Foundation, said “If you have a passion for social justice, this is the perfect opportunity to do something.” Rojas has been an ACE at St. Anthony’s for three years and also helped create the project that she maintains. She is currently facilitating service learning projects for USF students, in which they are working on presentations about homelessness and mental illness.
The advocate for community engagement is a unique opportunity because it provides students with an opportunity to extend their service learning project and expand their knowledge of pressing social issues, like homelessness, while also being paid by the Office of Service Learning and Community Action. ACEs make a one year commitment to work a minimum of eight to ten hours a week at their partner organizations. When professors use USF’s community partners, like Glide, for their service learning classes, they connect with an advocate to set goals for the students and provide course information so the project can be tailored toward the course objectives. Politics professor Corey Cook’s class, Housing and Homelessness Policy, has been working with Davey and the Glide Foundation this semester. His class is conducting a research project that will analyze San Francisco’s 10 Year plan for chronic homelessness and see if it is effective. He said, “The point of service learning isn’t just volunteering…it is to integrate (the service projects) into the classroom.” Cook said that Davey and other ACEs have been “very helpful” in facilitating the reflections that the students are required to submit. He said “The reflections have been much more rigorous and guided.” Although the research project has been difficult, Cook said that it will be useful for the community.
In addition to guiding service learning projects with professors, Davey and Linda Szabados, a sophomore politics major and ACE for the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, occasionally provide direct services for their community partners. Szabados said that her direct service is tutoring children. She is also planning fundraisers to finance a summer camp program at Camp Mendocino for low income families. She said, “Service learning experiences are really important.” Stephanie Lottridge, a senior performing arts and social justice major, volunteered at St. Anthony’s for a capstone course. She was reluctant to work in the Tenderloin, instead she wanted to focus on a world issue like human trafficking, for her documentary theater project. Of working at the Tenderloin, a multi-cultured community, Lottridge said, “Trying to communicate is a barrier you have to work through. You learn how to do nonverbal communication.” Through her service learning project and interviews, she said “These people have so many voices to express.”
Rojas encouraged students interested in becoming ACEs or who are considering a service learning project to “Get out, learn and be out of your comfort zone.” She said USF’s community partners that are based in the Tenderloin, like the Glide Foundation and St. Anthony’s Foundation, are very well respected. She said that when she started working in the Tenderloin she was nervous, but she “realized the stereotypes weren’t true” and she “[learned] the reality about situations.” Szabados agreed and said that after meeting people and becoming familiar with the staff and clientele, she felt more comfortable. Davey suggested that students who are unsure of what they would like to do for their mandatory service learning project contact the Office of Service Learning, who can recommend an organization that reflects their interests.