by Gerry Boyle '78
It was a sunny afternoon in January and, like a bus driver making a stop, Nick Snyder '05 pulled his Blazer up in front of Foss Hall. Snyder picked up Shawn Sato '05 and then drove downtown to the Albert S. Hall School, where, in the library, fifth graders were waiting.
Within minutes, Snyder, Sato and several other Colby mentors taking part in the Colby Cares About Kids program were talking about Play Station games, movies like Dumb and Dumber, the perils of having younger siblings. Snyder's friend Roy, who is 11, showed him his class picture. "There you are," Snyder said, peering at the tiny photo as Roy watched expectantly for his reaction. "Before you got your haircut."
It's a scene repeated at schools throughout greater Waterville as more than 160 Colby students fan out every week to play chess, tetherball, freeze tag, to listen as a kid reads aloud or just talk. The program got underway in September and by all accounts has been an overwhelming success. And it could have been much bigger, with enthusiasm at the College and in the community outstripped only by the limits of the 12-hour days of administrator Teresa Hawko '01. "I have more and more kids coming up to me and saying they want a Colby friend," said Moira Bentzel, a guidance counselor at the Hall School.
Of course, volunteering is nothing new on Mayflower Hill. The Colby Volunteer Center is and has been a conduit for hundreds of students who offer their services to everything from staffing the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter to coaching junior-high basketball. Students do service-learning projects from the Belgrade Lakes to Guatemala. CBB abroad programs like that taught by Associate Professor James Webb (history) in Cape Town, South Africa, last semester revolve around community service and service learning.
But is this sort of "giving back" to the larger community something automatically associated with Colby? Associate Professor Mark Tappan (education and human development) said, "I think it is not something Colby has institutionalized--that this is one of our central aspects, our identity--but I think it's there." Tappan, who for a decade has overseen Colby students working in area schools, said the inclusion of community service as a priority in the College's new strategic plan will help move the College toward making volunteering and service learning a more recognized part of the Colby mission.
He sees Colby as being on the cusp of a time when students will see it as their responsibility to make a contribution to the larger community while still undergraduates, to leave some sort of legacy that would make them alumni, not just of Colby but of Waterville and central Maine. "The energy is here," Tappan said. "The need is here. It's an ideal center here."
And the pace of change in thinking on campus is accelerating.
Yes, President Bro Adams has made community service a key element in the College's new Strategic Plan. Students now come to Colby with community service in their backgrounds and in their expectations, according to Parker Beverage, dean of admissions. Community service and service learning are becoming part of a Colby education as more students look for ways to contribute--and gain and apply knowledge--beyond the perimeter of Mayflower Hill. "It has a currency now that is accepted," said Tom Morrione '65, Dana Professor of Sociology.
That isn't the case only at Colby. In fact, the College is in step with a burgeoning trend toward service learning and "civic engagement" at America's colleges and universities.
Membership in the Brown University-based organization Campus Compact, a clearinghouse for community service in higher education, has nearly quadrupled since 1991, from 235 schools to more than 800. The percentage of college students involved in community service nearly tripled in just three years, from 10 percent in 1998 to 28 percent last year. Almost three quarters of Campus Compact's member schools have permanent community-service offices.
If the numbers aren't impressive alone, consider how far Colby has come in the past few decades and how that reflects changes in thinking on campus and in society at large.
In its early years, Colby took young men and women from Maine and beyond and turned them into ministers and teachers, and community service was done in a secondary school or from the pulpit. Later fraternity and sorority members as well as independent students pitched in to help the less fortunate in the community. That ethos was and is pervasive, as evidenced in the profiles that accompany this story.
But in the days before a Colby Volunteer Center, community service was less formalized and happened on a case-by-case basis as an extracurricular activity. Formal education was largely confined to the classroom, and that boundary would stand firm for more than 150 years.
As late as 1961, when Morrione arrived at Colby as a student, that remained the case. "What that meant," he said, "is yeah, you'd go to a prison, you'd go in the community, but it would be almost like a field trip. You'd walk around and you'd interview somebody and then you'd come back and talk about it in class.
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