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Educating Each Other: Students Volunteer in New Jersey

Klarrisa FrankFrom December 13 to 21, while most Seattle Pacific University students are enjoying a much-needed break, six SPU students will be headed back into the classroom. Part of SPU’s Urban Involvement (UI) program, the students will travel to Camden, New Jersey, to help out teachers at the CamdenForward School. Part of Camden-based UrbanPromise, a Christian community development organization, the CamdenForward School seeks to help at-risk youth in an area considered to be one of the poorest in the United States.

To learn more about the trip, In the Loop caught up with senior Klarrisa Frank, an international business major participating in the trip, and Owen Sallee, UI coordinator for the service project.

Has SPU been involved with UrbanPromise before, or is this the first time?

Owen Sallee: I spent a week in Camden back in 1998 volunteering with UrbanPromise. SPU has visited on and off since then, but starting around 2006, we’ve begun to send student teams regularly. It ties into our focus on U.S. domestic trips, which will include a trip to Jackson, Mississippi, in spring 2009 to volunteer with John Perkins’ ministry.

What made you want to join the trip?

Klarrisa Frank: Last year I spent time in China through our business school. I saw poverty and injustices while I was there, and those impressions inspired me to take a SPRINT trip to Cameroon (West Africa) this past summer to work with a rural development project. The more I saw there, the more concerned I’ve become about these issues. After my trip, I realized I was gaining a global perspective on poverty, but I wanted to know more about it in the U.S., especially its urban centers. So I was interested in learning more.

What types of activities will you do during the week?

OS: CamdenForward School works with K–8 students. SPU students volunteer in classrooms and do work projects as requested. UrbanPromise staff will also lead a tour of Camden, and the students will meet with different groups trying to make a difference in the Camden area, including groups working with street teens. But mostly they’ll stick in the classrooms and help students.

What kind of training have you had for this opportunity?

OS: Training that Urban Involvement does for the students involves cross-cultural studies, including awareness in how to move in the context in which they are a minority.

KF: We’re learning about how a person’s race can get incorporated into the system, like with housing and immigration. What does it mean to be victimized? Also, the training is helping us look at communitywide issues and think about addressing them.

OS: Part of the training is to help the student volunteers to learn about short-term missions. You don’t go in with the attitude of “I’m going to fix this situation.” It’s better to go in with the willingness to observe, listen, and learn.

So what are the goals for the trip?

OS: Part of this trip is to have SPU students observe how a Christian community development organization addresses the needs of a community. In other words, they see the needs firsthand, and then see how UrbanPromise addresses them.

KF: John Perkins says, “Development isn’t making people look like you,” so we’re hoping to see the issues, how things really work, and then find creative ways to address the issues.

OS: Right. Learn to be a learner and see things in a new way. A main goal is for students to learn how to form relationships in communities, and to learn about how educational efforts are connected to the bigger picture, such as poverty. Because out of relationships, working side by side, change can come.

What are you looking forward to?

KF: I’m particularly interested in learning how education can make a difference in people’s lives. My global development classes are helping me see that education is important in the process of people getting out of poverty.

OS: This type of trip can really help students think about their calling. That’s some of what happened for me when I realized I was interested in making a difference in urban communities.

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