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Swearer fair draws those looking to serve

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sayles Hall bustled Wednesday night with Brown students eager to better the world. The Community Service Opportunities Fair, held at the beginning of each semester by the Swearer Center for Public Service, drew a large crowd.

The fair hosted about 64 service groups, including groups dedicated to adult literacy, advocacy, environment and youth issues.

A panel discussion, entitled “How I Found My Way to Community Work,” preceded the fair. The panel, a new addition to the fair, included five Brown students who coordinate various community service groups.

Hannah Watson ’08 MD’12 led the discussion and encouraged the panelists to share what work they did, how they got involved and what connections to the community they made. “The goal (of the panel) was to have a bit of discussion and hear some perspectives in an informal setting,” Watson said.

The panelists spoke enthusiastically about their involvement with community service at Brown. They also emphasized the importance of building a sustainable program that will continue long after its volunteers have graduated.

It’s important to recognize that the Providence community exists year-round, beyond when Brown is in session, said Christina Rodrigues ’10, a coordinator of Algebra In Motion. The program’s participants teach algebra at Hope High School.

The panelists also stressed the relationships formed during community service.

“The students are really willing to reach out to you and open up,” said Jakina Debnam ’09, who is involved with CityGirls and CityBrothers.

Vicky Wang ’10 of Olneyville ESOL said she felt the same way. “One of the most rewarding aspects is that it gives Brown students a chance to help people in the community and get to know them.” Brown students in the program teach English to adults in Olneyville.

Some of the panelists had discovered an “intersection between community and academic work,” Watson said. Debnam said her community service had helped counteract the “Ivy Tower effect.” “I had had a previous perception of people in Providence,” she said, which changed after getting involved.

It also added dimension to her studies, she added, by showing how the policies she learned about in her economics class affected people in real life.

But in the end, service needs to be about the community, the panelists said.

“It’s about trying to collaborate with the learners so they can meet their goal,” Wang said.

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