Author: Knar Gavin
Occidental College has a wonderfully diverse student body and emphasizes the importance of cultural awareness and articulacy, offering an array of courses addressing topics from ethics to race, classism to social justice. Many students, while passionate, need an outlet through which to affect the kinds of changes they feel are necessary in their surrounding world.
The Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL), offers just such an outlet. Under the CCBL, Occidental students have instituted almost a dozen student-run volunteer projects in Pasadena and the surrounding area.
CCBL organizations like Great Strides and Delevan Drive, both volunteer programs at local elementary schools, allow students to “put everything [they’re] learning in the classroom into context,” co-director for the Great Strides project Sarah Ritter (junior) said.
Mia Zagaja (junior), also co-director for Great Strides, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the “growing importance of community-based learning.” The Great Strides and Delevan Drive projects serve elementary schools just minutes away from Oxy. Each project has its own specific objectives.
Great Strides began to take shape during the fall of 2006. Casey Weiss ’07 along with Ritter and Zagaja carried out a substantial portion of the project’s initial planning. Great Strides’ central objective was to supply mentors to local girls and encourage mind-body health. The project presently receives CCBL funding and recruits volunteers through Club Days, the Oxy Digest and word of mouth.
Great Strides volunteers mentor fourth and fifth grade girls weekly at Garvanza Elementary. All Great Strides volunteers are female. Each volunteer forms a group with five or six girls who participate in a wide range of physical activities including soccer, touchball, kickball and track and field.
Following a given sports session, the volunteers share healthy snacks with their groups to encourage good eating habits and instill the idea that it’s possible to find snack sources that are both tasty and healthy. Every fourth visit to Garvanza, the volunteers hold discussions with the girls. Topics of discussion include the importance of physical activity, positive body image, self-assurance and healthy eating.
“It’s all about trying to build positive relationships,” said Zagaja.
Great Strides volunteers journey to Garvanza eight weeks each semester. At the end of the eight-week session, Great Strides brings the girls to campus.
“Most of them would never come to Oxy unless it was for Great Strides,” said Zagaja.
Great Strides and organizations similar to it “get Oxy out there as a visible community resource,” added Ritter.
Delevan Drive, another CCBL project, “[volunteers] with some of the coolest elementary students you’ll ever meet,” project director Sheryl Baptista (junior) said. The students at Delevan Drive Elementary are “always excited . . . to welcome [volunteers] into their classroom,” Baptista said.
Delevan Drive volunteers interact with disabled elementary school students, engaging them in assorted artistic and educational activities “[ranging] from making photo frames with Popsicle sticks to water bottle piggy banks to a Saint Patrick’s Day mosaic rainbow made of colored paper,” Baptista said.
Baptista reflects on one particularly charming moment last semester at Delevan when the elementary children had “made flower leis out of paper flowers, string and straws. All the students finished their leis rather quickly and [the volunteers] were left with 10-15 minutes of project time. [One student] had a great idea of starting to do the hula with her hula lei. This idea escalated into a mini dance party . . . it was so impromptu and rather amazing.”
Whether it’s hula dancing with flowered leis or chasing a soccer ball around with a group of elementary school girls, there’s a volunteer opportunity for everyone.
“[Delevan Drive has] volunteers ranging from first-years to seniors and majors ranging from Art to DWA,” says Baptista.
Great Strides boasts a similarly diverse pool of volunteers.
“It takes an hour or two hours a week to get involved and it does make a difference,” said Zagaja.
The time commitment is minor compared to the overall contribution that is made by volunteers. Ritter and Zagaja were also careful to remark that community involvement can be a social endeavor; one needn’t volunteer alone. Friends serve beside friends and there’s something for everyone to do.
Students who would like to participate in a CCBL project like Great Strides or Delevan Drive, should refer to the following website: http://departments.oxy.edu/ccbl/projectinterin.html. The contacts for the specific projects mentioned in the article are as follows: Mia Zagaja – Great Strides – firstname.lastname@example.org; Sarah Ritter – Great Strides – email@example.com; Sheryl Baptista – Delevan Drive – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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