Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seeds of service, turning 50

In 1964 a seed was planted.  It was a seed of service, of sharing, and of learning, and now fifty years later, a forest of relationships grows all around the Calvin College campus, the city of Grand Rapids, the State of Michigan, and indeed more recently there are buds opening in places around the world like Americus, Georgia; Houma, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Budapest, Hungary; Accra, Ghana; Arequipa, Peru; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  The first planters of this seed formed it as a student club, and they called it K.I.D.S., for Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students.  Later the movement became known as the Student Volunteer Services office, and then finally the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College since 1993.  It has been my deep privilege to serve as the director of this place since 2002.

One of the things I love about this 'movement', as I like to call it, is that there are so many stories of hope, and of love, and of friendship.  I read and learn about lots of things in the world that can make me want to cry, to lament the depth of evil in the world, and that leave me feeling helpless and in despair.  And nearly every day in the work that I do I encounter stories of courage, of justice, of reaching out, of connection - stories that counter the other stories.  I think of former students working hard to make the world better in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Honduras, Toronto, Chicago, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, and nearly every corner of the city of Grand Rapids - and I am inspired.  These alumni use the skills and knowledge and passion that they learned at Calvin College to join ambitious and thoughtful people all over in service and community-building.  You can read about some of them here.

Partnership with schools is still our primary activity, with tutoring and mentoring and homework help happening at multiple locations every day after school, but the work has expanded too.  Deep, reflective work on the Plaster Creek watershed, in which the college resides, includes research, oral histories, upstream and downstream relationship building, and the involvement of schools, college, churches and community organizations.  History, Social Work, Chemistry, Biology, Spanish, Engineering, Art, Kinesiology, Nursing, Political Science, Music, Geography, Geology, Psychology, and many other departments have regular involvement in academically-based service-learning projects and assignments.  Study abroad in Ghana, Honduras, Peru and Hungary, as well as Spain, Cambodia, India, Haiti and France, among others, all include elements of service-learning and community engagement regularly.  Spring break trips take more than a hundred students to ten or more locations within driving distance to partner with Christian community development organizations in thoughtful and reciprocal service.  New students have been welcomed to Calvin with a day of service-learning every year since 1993 through StreetFest.

Soon, on June 6 and 7, many of the leaves, branches, flowers and trunks of this original planting will gather to celebrate fifty years of growth, and I would love to invite you to join us.  There have been hundreds of student staff members, and ten or so directors and associate directors.  Nearly all of the directors will be on hand, and dozens of former student staff members and volunteers.  Everyone is welcome.  Let’s get your name on the list.

You can register for one or more of the four events at this link:

See who is already planning to be there here:

And I hope you will especially consider joining us on Saturday evening, June 7, at the Kroc Center in Grand Rapids, for a banquet with dinner, and plenty of time for stories and gratitude.

Please let us know before the Memorial Day weekend ends though, our catering staff is asking us for a final number by Tuesday, the 27th of May.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at slc@calvin.edu, or call us at 616-526-6455 . 

The current staff of the Service-Learning Center opens all of its weekly meetings with words from the Common Prayer as follows:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you; wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness; protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing; at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing: once again, into our doors.

I like to think of this anniversary celebration as an opportunity for some of us to pass once again into those doors of rejoicing, if only for an evening together.

I hope we’ll see you there.