Promise Three is More Than Just Volunteering

Oct 24, 2010 by

Community service means different things to different people. When noted educational writer Arthur Cohen wrote his first edition of one of the premier books about America’s community colleges in 1982, he identified community service as cultural events, workshops and non-credit courses.

To many TJC students, however, community service often means participating in a fund-raiser, helping with a neighborhood clean-up project, giving blood or encouraging others to vote.

However you define it, you don’t have to look far to find community service being carried out each day at TJC.

Students regularly initiate their own community service efforts, like when freshman Sheryl Mason decided to donate her hair to Locks of Love in April or when students in Don Blaine’s leadership class decided three years ago that the Make-A-Wish Foundation should be an annual project.

Other service efforts arise out of the College’s willingness to provide the use of its facilities and experts to the community.

During its 2009 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the TJC Small Business Development Center met with 175 clients and provided loan and investment services to 29 clients for a total of $21.5 million in loans and investment. As of June 1, the SBDC had met with an additional 148 clients this fiscal year, including 18 loan and investment clients who received $21 million in assistance.

“Prior to our 2009 results, the 23-year standing record for any of the 18 small business centers in the North Texas Region was just under $17 million in loans and investment,” said Don Proudfoot, director of the SBDC.
Proudfoot attributes the increased success to a variety of factors.

Sheryl Mason

“The SBA program for guaranteed loans has been very important during this time of tight credit and has helped us do more deals for clients,” he said. “The Tyler area is still expanding throughout a very difficult economic period and more people are considering owning their own business to bring more stability to their family.”

The services he and the SBDC provide aren’t the only community services being offered on the West Campus. Adjacent to SBDC is the Tyler Area Business Incubator, where 15 small businesses are receiving consultation and have low overhead as they work to take their businesses from concept to mainstay.

“Most of my graduates are still in business,” says TABI Director Tony Tadasa. “I have a couple of current clients that have a possibility of making it big. I think we’re doing a lot of things right. It is not unusual for another city to come visit us before their opening their own incubator.”
The West Campus is also a regular meeting place for many not-for-profit organizations, government agencies and educational providers like the Tyler Independent School District. Use of the facilities for these organizations is usually free of charge.

“We have an obligation to serve our community in ways
that benefit business, education and civic involvement.”

“We have an obligation to serve our community in ways that benefit business, education and civic involvement,” said Dr. Aubrey Sharpe, dean of continuing studies. “To us, community service isn’t just participating in volunteer activities, it is total engagement with the community.”

The School of Continuing Studies keeps track of the number of times it engages with the community for such service and even though it declined slightly in 2009, it served nearly 21,000 individuals, said Mona Henderson, assistant dean.
Other community service efforts have historically not always been so well-documented.

In February, TJC was once again named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, a distinction that recognizes the College’s documented service hours and initiatives from August 2008 through July 2009. During that time span, TJC students provided more than 25,000 hours of documented volunteer work.

Initiatives included assisting with the TJC relief shelter for displaced nursing home residents affected by hurricanes Edouard and Gustav, picking up litter along highways in four TJC-adopted zones, and performing dental hygiene services at the TJC dental clinic. There were many more projects taken on by student organizations, faculty and staff during that period, some of which were never documented for recognition.

Students Kayce Douthit and Dennis Pham demonstrate the Promise 3 symbol during their work on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project in Mineola.

“When undergoing our self-study for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools re-affirmation process, we discovered a new standard regarding community/public service,” said Marian Jackson, director of library services. “In light of our Promise Number 3, we knew we were engaged in and committed to community/public service.  We found, however, that we were not consistent in keeping track of service opportunities – whether performed by our students, our faculty, or our staff.  In light of that realization, a consistent and standardized means of reporting all community/public service is being developed, with roll-out expected in August. I truly believe we will be astounded when yearly man-hours are tabulated!”

The tracking system will help the College chart project goals, participants, man hours and outcomes achieved.

One recent project that attracted documented participation from TJC students, faculty and staff was the production of an episode of ABC television’s “Exteme Makeover – Home Edition” in March. More than 150 TJC volunteers helped make a new home for the Michael and Katrina Carr family of Mineola.

“I was there for 12 hours at the beginning of the project and I ended up being out there for 40 hours total,” said sophomore Dennis Pham. “It was a wonderful experience. Giving back is very important to me. I believe that when you give back, someone is going to see that and it will become infectious.”

The makeover project was completed in less than two weeks in early March. The ABC episode about the Carr home aired May 3.

In late March, about 50 dental hygiene and vision care students assisted in a day-long project to provide dental work and other health services and referrals to more than 500 people as part of the Texas Mission of Mercy statewide initiative.
Dr. David Nichols was among a dozen dentists to provide their professional expertise free of charge.

TJC President Dr. Mike Metke, right, helps Professor John Hays, left, and Dr. George Wilson repair a damaged desk at Escuela Las Lilas.

“Many of these patients were in desperate need,” Dr. Nichols said. “There were cases of multiple abscessed teeth, missing teeth, decayed teeth and these, in many cases, were the type of people who were not very literate in proper hygiene. The dental hygiene students helped expose these people to proper hygiene routines.”

Tammy Whittington of Gilmer had seen Dr. Nichols once before, during a Mission of Mercy project at a local Christian youth organization. “I had seen Dr. Nichols before at Youth With a Mission and I’m glad he is here today. I would not have been able to afford this kind of care. Dr. Nichols is giving me immediate dentures and partials and I haven’t had a full set of teeth in I don’t know how long!” she said.

Dr. Nichols said he believes exposing students to charity care is an important part of the learning process.

“We have observed over the years that bringing college and high school-age students in to projects that provide charity care for patients in need stimulates a large percentage of them to continue to want to serve as a volunteer later in life. A lot of people go into health professions because they want to serve their fellow man, and this is one way they see it in action.”

So, what is more important – TJC helping its surrounding community, or students and employees’ personal growth as a result of service?

“I strongly feel the students here at TJC believe it is their duty to give back to their community,” said Vincent Nguyen, director of the center for student life and involvement. “It would amaze the outsider to see what extent these students will go to personally help others. This past year has probably been one of the best years we’ve had.  We’ve had more students motivated to explore and participate in events than ever.

“This generation of students has proven that it’s more than just a random act of kindness, it’s a way of life. And that’s refreshing.”

After an eight-day trip across Costa Rica that included two days of service work on a small school in the tiny community of Las Lilas, TJC student Rifath Abdul Azzak said the benefits of service are mutual.

“I feel immensely happy after giving back to the community in a little way. The easiest thing to do would be donate money but going on a trip in circumstances that we may not be used to and working hard to help an underprivileged community brought a lot of pleasure,” she said.

Fellow service worker Marc Randle agreed.

“I believe that when you give back, someone is going to see that and it will become infectious.”

“Community service has always been a huge part of my life. I have participated in numerous community service projects throughout my college career. Every time I complete a community service project I leave with a feeling of gratitude that I could assist someone other than myself. The ability to participate in a community service project was critical in my decision to go to Costa Rica. This experience in particular not only brought about feelings of gratitude, it was also a humbling experience.”

Dr. Metke’s administrative assistant Ellen Matthews and her husband joined the trip, not only to experience the beauty of Costa Rica, but to help with the service project.

“To be reminded that everyone in the world doesn’t live the way we do, but to see them so content with the way they live was a real eye-opener for me,” she said. “It was a great experience.”

As simple as volunteering to work a few hours at the hurricane evacuation shelter or as involved as managing a semester-long project to benefit a terminally ill child, community service is a part of the glue that makes TJC the institution it is.

For certain, the results have included an improved quality of life for the citizens of Tyler, but perhaps just as important, a sense of place and self-worth to TJC students and employees.


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Community, Features, Spring 2011

About the author

Fred Peters is the Director of Public Affairs at Tyler Junior College. He can be reached at 903-510-2627 or at fpet@tjc.edu