By Elizabeth Klipp
ATLANTA –Instead of getting a jump on weekend plans, Georgia State freshman Shelley Warner spent a recent Friday afternoon reading books to several kids at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding, including Yasmine Ford.
In the waiting area for primary care, the 5-year-old eagerly listened as Warner read, “Little Rabbit Foo Foo.” Once the GSU freshman finished the book, Yasmine asked, “Can you read me another please?”
This is just the reaction – a young child getting excited about books – that Children’s Healthcare officials hope to achieve through the Reach Out and Read, a non-profit program that partners with doctors to prescribe books to children and encourage families reading together for school success.
Thanks to a new community service component in GSU Freshmen Learning Communities, Georgia State’s first-year students are getting a more personal look at the Atlanta community around campus and are tackling some of the issues affecting it.
“I enjoy doing something for someone else,” Warner said while volunteering. “Knowing it might help the children and take their mind off why they are here, makes me feel better about myself.”
Each Friday this fall, freshmen have an opportunity to sign up through the Office of Civic Engagement and volunteer at a local non-profit agencies or schools, all of which are within walking distance to campus.
Georgia State students are serving at Oakland Cemetery, Samaritan House of Atlanta, Cook Elementary School, Children’s at Hughes Spalding, Wheat Street Towers, Butler Street YMCA and the Martin Luther King Jr. Visitors Center.
Georgia State’s Freshmen Learning Communities, or FLCs, are groups of 25 first-year students taking five core courses together that are based on a common theme, such as “Healthcare Administration” or “Business and Technology.”
This fall, Georgia State has about 1,470 first-year students enrolled in 63 Freshmen Learning Communities, a program that began in 1999 with 11 communities. In 2010, and for the eighth year in a row, U.S. News & World Report listed Georgia State’s FLC program among the “outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success.”
For the last few years, Georgia State’s FLCs have been using the city as its living classroom, emphasizing an Atlanta-based learning component to each community – whether that meant touring the Auburn District or seeing a performance at the Rialto. The service component, new this year, takes that idea one step further, said Nia Haydel, academic professional for FLCs in Enrollment Services.
“We wanted students to understand the importance of giving back to their community and we wanted to get them more involved with downtown Atlanta,” Haydel said. “As college students and college graduates they will be some of the most privileged members of our society. It’s critical for them to think about how they are going to give back.”
About half of the freshman class is enrolled in an FLC, but Georgia State’s Office of Civic Engagement has targeted the entire freshman class with service opportunities.
“We try to make finding service opportunities easy, as we know that many of our students want to get involved in the community but don't know where to start,” said Kelli Vincent, student affairs advisor in the Office of Civic Engagement.
The fall 2010 semester kicked off with the large-scale service event, “Freshmen Community Plunge,” during Panther Welcome Week. That day, Georgia State students helped clean up Centennial Park and the Old Fourth Ward, while others planted trees and organized books on the shelves of Fulton County’s Library downtown branch. The offices of Civic Engagement and Undergraduate Studies also invited GSU students to participate in the AIDS Walk in Piedmont Park in October.
The campus’ vibrant spirit for community service has attracted the support of the Georgia State President Mark Becker’s wife, Laura Voisinet. She participated in the “Freshmen Community Plunge” and came along to Children’s at Hughes Spalding with four freshmen to help with the Reach out and Read program.
“I’m very committed to educating young people,” Voisinet said. “If we can get them excited about reading from the get-go, that’s a good thing.”
Freshmen are sent out on volunteer projects each Friday afternoon with a GSU student mentor, an upper-class student who can answer questions and guide them through the experience. Once finished with volunteering, first-year students are given time to reflect on what the experience meant to them. Some FLC instructors require students to turn in papers based on these reflections.
Lexus Edmonds, a freshman who wants to major in pre-nursing and is in the Healthcare FLC, said her time at Children’s at Hughes Spalding was very rewarding. She manned an arts and crafts table and made pumpkin masks and personalized bags with patients.
“Seeing a smile on a child’s face who might not have something to be happy about is very rewarding,” Edmonds said. “I’ll definitely be back; it’s so easy for me to get here.”
Published Nov. 8, 2010