Christina Waller: Gordon College in Partnership with the Oliver Partnership School

“What the hell am I doing?” I wake to this thought, eat lunch to this thought, and go to sleep to this thought. It has been the everlasting, never-ending background music to my year of service. Let me explain further.

I spent undergrad studying Business Administration and Communication Arts. Not because I wanted to but out of sheer stubbornness of wanting to prove my family wrong. From the moment I started forming words they told me I was destined to pursue the field of Social Work. Turns out after spending four years going heavily into debt, they were right. Still, it felt amazing to walk across that stage and receive a diploma for Business and Communications knowing they were in the audience shaking their heads. However, if there is one lecture I listened to throughout my college career it was a lecture on environmental policies and the impact they have on communities. The professor introduced me to the language of negative and positive externalities and explained how people may have good intentions and want to make changes to help the environment but those changes could be costly and may be more harmful than beneficial. New initiatives or the enforcement of new policies have negative and positive externalities and we must ensure the positive will always remain more prevalent than the negative.

Being the self-indulging millennial that I am, I immediately applied this lecture to my life. I believe my exact thoughts were, “ Screw the environment. What about me and the choices I make?”…. I’m only halfway kidding, the environment matters. I am sure all of you are faithful recyclers. But in all seriousness, I realized how I approach the world matters. I may have the best of intentions and want nothing but flourishing for all people but how I go about it is sensitive.

With this thought process acting as the structure for how I live my life and preform my daily job, it has often time left me with the crippling thought of, “what the hell am I doing or am I doing this right?”

Serving as a first time VISTA for my alma mater, Gordon College, I get the rare opportunity to pave my own way and create programs that I see best for our community partners as well as the college. I am constantly in the position of developing, evaluating, and implementing new programs.

For the past eleven years, Gordon College’s Office of Community Engagement possessed partnerships in primarily Lynn. Majority of these partnerships were student initiated and student run. My role in the office is to expand our partnerships into the city of Lawrence and help shift our focus away from students and towards faculty. Our office wants faculty to cultivate partnerships and use service as a way to further their curriculum.

With this being said, I have had the incredible opportunity of developing our newest partnership with The Oliver Partnership School. OPS is a K-5 school with a mission to “serve the Oliver School community with effective and innovative educational and school governance practices rooted in research and evidence” (their words not mine… did what I do best, copied and pasted from their website). Fortunately, the school shares the same idealistic, dreamer outlook I do and has allowed me to test the waters quite a bit. Working along side professors we have developed quite a few programs as well as one-time projects at OPS. Listed below are brief descriptions of a few of the programs/projects.

Family Focus Groups: Gordon College’s Research Method’s course has been conducting Family Focus Groups with the parents of OPS to address the question of parent involvement
Science Club: Gordon College’s Organic Chemistry course facilitates Science Club for 4-5 graders to teach them about green chemistry
Lunch Circles/Recess Buddies: Gordon College’s Lower level core courses runs a mentoring program for every student at OPS

There are more programs/projects being orchestrated by faculty but I feel as though I have rambled enough. Ultimately, my year of service thus far has been summarized by that one lecture I listened to in college. Everyday I aim to measure the positive and negative externalities my “capacity building” will leave behind. Some days it is discouraging and some days it is extremely rewarding but it is still important I do something. I think some monk somewhere in the world once said something along the lines of, “it is better to act and do something than to do nothing out of fear of failure.”

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