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Kirtland Community College and River House Shelter

Kirtland Community College and River House Shelter: A Natural Combination

Submitted by Nicholas Holton on Fri, 09/03/2010 - 08:54

Kirtland Community College (KCC) serves a four-county region in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, USA. With a full time equated student population of approximately 3000, it is a small rural college that is the focal point of post secondary education in the area. The closest university is at least 70 miles away from the region, and many of Kirtland’s students are first generation college students. The college has an active career and technical division with many programs, including nursing and criminal justice as its two flagship programs. The general education division prepares students to transfer to (mainly) Michigan public universities. The median student age is twenty-eight (28) and the Fifty-one percent (51%) are female.
River House, Inc. (RHI) is a nonprofit agency that serves survivors of homelessness, domestic abuse and sexual violence in the Kirtland service area. RHI has been serving local communities since 1986, by providing crisis counseling, emergency shelter, group counseling and support, as well as legal advocacy and community education.

For many years, Kirtland Community College has had an uncoordinated and informal relationship with RHI. This has led to several curricular and co-curricular projects. Unfortunately, neither the college nor the shelter realized the full potential from the relationship until recently. Representatives from both organizations met to formalize the collaboration with a new emphasis on concentrating efforts that furthered RHI’s goals while enhancing Kirtland’s academic service learning objectives.

The initial meeting in April 2008 included the RHI Director Kriss Goodroe, Kirtland’s Service Learning Coordinator Nicholas Holton, Student Senate Advisor John Thiel and Associate Dean of Instruction Jerry Boerema. Representatives agreed to research, develop and implement a collaborative initiative between River House, Inc. and Kirtland Community College, with respect to shared goals, both curricular and co-curricular.

After securing appropriate institutional and organizational approvals, a key component to the initiative was to apply for an AmeriCorps*VISTA through Michigan Campus Compact for the 2009-2010 academic year. Michigan Campus Compact promotes the education and commitment of Michigan college students to be civically engaged citizens, through creating and expanding academic, co-curricular and campus-wide opportunities for community service, service learning and civic engagement. The VISTA (Monica Martinez) researched, developed, implemented and formalized the collaboration be initiative between RHI and KCC.

Martinez came to the project with many collaborative activities currently in place. Some were curricular projects like the Cosmetology Department makeover program, while others were co-curricular like the faculty Christmas Dinner and RHI benefit auction. Martinez inventoried existing activities and implemented new collaborative projects, such as:

• The art department’s “Empty Bowls” service learning project
• The reinstatement of KCC’s domestic violence committee and a Domestic Violence Awareness Balloon Launch as well as a Sexual Assault Awareness “Take Back the Night” march and rally
• The KCC Clothesline Project
• The sociology and cosmetology departments’ canned food drives
• The art department’s combination of photography and ceramics to create silent auction items for RHI for two separate silent auction events
• A course, “Volunteerism in the Community,” co-taught by RHI staff and the Service Learning Coordinator
• An international service learning trip to Guatemala with a focus on human rights and poverty issues that are at the heart of RHI’s mission

These projects represent only a few of the new efforts that solidify KCC’s collaboration with RHI. These and other similar initiatives are all fully integrated into their curricula and contain reflection components highlighting social issues and RHI services. More than just fundraising, Kirtland students contributed their time, talents and enthusiasm to provide a myriad of services. Student clubs, the Student Senate, faculty and staff groups participated in new service projects. Kirtland revived several community-based human services co-curricular projects like the food drive, adopt-a-family, kids Halloween party, and a coat drive.

River House provided supplemental instruction in several Kirtland classes including: Nursing, Criminal Justice, Cosmetology, Sociology, Psychology, and Art. Along with the supplemental instruction, students in these and other classes have service learning opportunities at RHI specifically designed for the course.

Increasingly, Kirtland Community College is seen as a community service provider in the region. This collaboration moved the college from simple service provider to a change agent in the community. This collaborative effort has elevated Kirtland to a whole new status in the region. Kirtland delivers a great educational service at a value price. Now KCC has expanded its role to nurture a culture of service on the campus, to create a new spirit of engagement in the Kirtland family (students, faculty, and staff), and to address the real needs of the survivors of sexual and domestic violence, homelessness and poverty in our district.

Kirtland’s nationally recognized service learning program has a dedicated core of faculty, staff and administrators that are committed to providing quality service experiences for students. The KCC-RHI collaboration is a natural expansion of our service mission. Domestic violence and sexual assault survivors are in crisis, and when Kirtland is seen as problem solver, it is more likely that these people will choose Kirtland for their future educational needs. Kirtland is committed to improving the quality of life in our region through education and service. The service learning and civic engagement seeds planted by this initiative will provide opportunities for years to come. The community events are now a source of community pride and could well be the central tenet of a replicable national model.

The added benefit of having an AmeriCorps*VISTA is the built-in assessment requirements. Kirtland was able to employ 73 students to do 607 hours of service for this collaboration. The independent sector valued one hour of volunteer service to be equivalent to $20.25. With this in mind, Kirtland students have provided $12,291.75 worth of service to their local community. In addition, there were 18 faculty, staff, or administrators who performed 122 hours of service, valued at $2,470.5. Speaking tangible donations, the new events and fundraisers brought in over $4,800 worth of money and in-kind goods to River House, Inc., in this academic year alone.

An encouraging sign is the larger commitment on the part of the college to back the program with more “hard” money during the next fiscal year. The college has doubled their commitment to this collaboration. Less tangible results include the approximately dozen press releases to local media outlets sharing the successes of the program with the community. This “free” advertising for the college and for River House is priceless in terms of public relations and community awareness. There were also 19 community presentations on behalf of River House with 290 people being involved.
Outside of the region, the collaboration, nominated for two national awards, has been showcased at several conferences and serves as replicable model of community partnerships.

Nationally, rural service learning programs and community partnerships are often overlooked or discounted because of the low number of participant compared to large urban and suburban programs at large universities. The numbers may look low, but proportionally they are very impressive. For instance, when Kirtland reports there were 18 faculty/administrators participating, this represents 18 out of only 37 full time faculty and 9 administrators.
Successful rural partnerships often are based on personal friendships and often disintegrate when one of the individuals in the partnership leaves. The unique aspect to the Kirtland/River House collaborative is the level of participation at all levels of the community college. Rather than just two individuals teaming up for a project, this consisted of two organizations partnering to reach mutual goals. The power of this partnership is the commitment that the VISTA generated with all stakeholders and with all constituent groups.

Rural college-community partnerships have the potential to lead the nation in creating meaningful change. Proportionally the level of participation in rural civic engagement projects is shining example of community action meeting real needs. It is time we tell the stories and share the successes to a world hurting for a cure for its problems. The Kirtland/River House example is just one example. Let us find more and share their story too.


RASL Activities

RASL just finished organizing an anthology on rural service learning, currently under review. 

In the past, RASL has organized gatherings of rural service learning practitioners and is hoping to do so again.

RASL Membership

RASL is not currently a formal membership organization.  If you would like to get on our e-mail list (we only use it to announce major stuff), please see the contact page.
Yorkshire Dales Landscape background photo by Petr Kratochvil.