Service-learning continues amidst a pandemic

As COVID-19 has affected many aspects of academics at Hastings College, it hasn’t stopped service learning designated courses from serving the community. This semester, the Small Group and Leadership course is continuing to partner with charities within the Hastings community, providing students the opportunity of working together to build skills while assisting others.

“The service component is such a strong part of our ethos at HC. More importantly, students learn the most when they have to fully embody the skills they are learning. When real stakes are attached, like helping a neighbor who lives just down the road, the call to serve is compelling, contagious, and transformative,” said Dr. Austin McDonald, assistant professor of communication.

With help from Dr. Jean Heriot, retired coordinator of service-learning courses, McDonald and students were provided guidance on practices and equipped with resources and connections to community partners. McDonald commented on the vacancy that Heriot left.

“She has been an invaluable resource by providing guidance on best practices, equipping us with resources, and connecting us with community partners. I located several community partners through Jean. With her recent retirement, HC now has a glaring gap that cannot be filled through in-kind (in-house) committee work,” McDonald said.

The partnering charities include Catholic Social Services, Team Reach Adventure Camps Hastings (T.R.A.C.), and Meals on Wheels (Senior Action). The 21 students in the course were then split into groups of five to six to respond to the unique needs of each organization. Student duties range from managing facilities, resources or events to assistance with administrative tasks. 

Since partnerships change every year, past organizations include the Hastings Literacy Program, Heartland Pet Connection, MentoringWorks, The Heritage at College View, YWCA’s The Zone and Week Without Violence. 

Due to the possibility of going remote during the fall because of COVID-19, the class meets in person every day as long as the health protocols allow. Wednesdays are used as a built-in group meeting and service day.

“For now, students are trying to get in as much service as possible in-person before the Thanksgiving break; there’s no telling what our constraints might be like in December. If we go remote, each community partner (as well as each group) has a general backup plan of how we can continue providing service online,” said McDonald.

McDonald’s hopes are for students to push away the initial feelings of discomfort they can feel by being a part of a larger community. By realizing that working effectively with others is possible through skill development, can ultimately lead them to rise to any collaborative occasion.

“Every year, students say working with a real-world community partner can be intimidating at first, but it provides the deep, substantial set of learning experiences that they feel they will carry into their careers,” said McDonald. “We’re not sitting in a classroom talking about “What if?” We’re doing the real thing—and it’s a chance to do some greater good for Hastings.”