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VOL. 128 | NO. 150 | Friday, August 02, 2013

Rhodes Program Spotlights Community Service

By Michael Waddell

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Rhodes College’s efforts to make community involvement an important part of student life was recently on display with its second annual REACH (Research, Engagement, and Community History) Symposium held in the Blount Auditorium of Buckman Hall.

It showcased student research projects and community involvement with various Memphis organizations like the Church Health Center, Community LIFT, Latino Memphis, Memphis Area Legal Services, Streets Ministries, Hope House, Livable Memphis, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Caritas Village and Literacy Mid-South.

Rhodes’ rising senior Rene Sanchez, right, researched “Hispanic Business, Culture and Memory in Memphis” as part of the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies this summer.  (Justin Fox Burks)

One goal at Rhodes is to make community-based scholarship a part of its students’ lives, and its summer programs prompt students to get involved with their community and helps them to gain exposure to the nonprofit culture of the area.

“Students come to Rhodes from all parts of the country, and these programs give them a chance to get involved with the community,” said Sandi George Tracy, Rhodes director of career services and one of the heads of the Summer Services Fellowship program. “We want them to not only see the issues, but also get a chance to see the wonderful things about Memphis and the people that are making a difference.”

Tracy said the university hopes to create citizens who will stay involved in whatever city they choose to live in after college.

More than 50 students participated in the school’s various work programs this summer, and approximately 80 percent of its students engaged in some form of community service during the past academic year. The eight- and nine-week programs allow students to work up to 35 hours per week at a local organization of their choosing.

“It’s a very competitive process to get into the programs, and students must show a lot of passion for the work they are going to do,” said Tracy, who had to narrow her group of 16 students down from more than 50 applicants.

Carly Sloan participated in the Summer Service Fellowship by working with Literacy Mid-South.

The job gave her the chance to teach children how to read and write, and she said she was able to attend workshops and conferences.

“I think the most important aspect of Memphis is that it is changing and growing,” Sloan said.

Rhodes College Summer Service Fellow Micah Leonard, center, recaps her work at Memphis Area Legal Services with its CEO Harrison McIver, left, and staff attorney Shayla Purifoy. (Justin Fox Burks)

The university’s nine-week summer Crossroads to Freedom program employed 10 students on a number of projects, including one in which Treadwell Middle School students from the Highland Heights community were interviewed about what they wanted to see for the future of their once-flourishing neighborhood.

“We taught the kids how to use cameras, conduct interviews and use storytelling techniques in order to get the memories of their communities out there,” said student Brittany Looney.

Students Sophia Osella, John Cerrito, Becca Martin and Joey Tibeauot worked as part of the school’s arts group this summer, using documentary films and painted works to tell their stories.

Cerrito worked with the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to create “A Woman with a Physical Problem,” a film chronicling the lives of four transwomen in Memphis.

“My film tracks their experiences with what it is like to be trans in the South, especially in Memphis where people have been very aggressive towards African-American transwomen,” Cerrito said.

His film, along with the other works of the arts group, will be screened and on display at Crosstown Art Aug. 22-23.

This summer’s Rhodes students also conducted research for Mid-South organizations on subjects including religion’s response to hunger, sex education in private schools, gun violence in Memphis, wage theft, civil rights, capital punishment in Shelby County, urban art projects, Native Americans in Memphis, and livable communities.

Faculty member John Bass directed three student projects for the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, and his students led an afternoon guitar club at Cypress Middle School.

“One of the big issues in a lot of our local communities is the lack of summer activities,” said Bass, program manager at the school’s Mike Curb Institute for Music. “We’ve run the guitar club for the past three years, and students and faculty go to Cypress Middle School twice a week to teach guitar and hang out with students.”

During the fall semester, Rhodes will enter into a new partnership with Crosstown Arts to run an after-school music program.

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