The Appalachian Center for Community Service is at the root of what makes Emory a place we are so deeply connected to. Be it through the Bonner Scholarship Program, the Public Policy & Community Service major, or the various service learning projects coordinated through the Center, the work that happens through the Appalachian Center binds us together as we strive towards social justice in our community.
The Public Policy & Community Service (PPCS) major is one that is very unique to Emory & Henry College. Not only do we learn the processes involved with creating policy change, but we learn about social justice, and how we are all actors in the ways it is both built up and torn down. This semester, seniors in the Public Policy & Community Service major program are using what they have learned during their time in the program to make sustained change in the community through an intensive internship with area non-profits including The Crisis Center, Inc., Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, and the Washington County Department of Social Services.
Several students in the lower level PPCS courses have asked me about the difference between their 25 hour service requirement and our practicum placements. Though our practicum placements do engage us in service, they are not what you may immediately think of as service. The Appalachian Center defines service in its mission statement as “meeting the immediate needs of persons…working for the long-term systemic changes…to change the conditions that have resulted in the troubles.” While many of these sites involve some form of direct service, or service that involves direct interaction with the population served, the main purpose of the practicum is to work as an integral part of the organization’s inner-structure in order to help fulfill the mission of that organization, and to dig deeper into the social injustices that create a need for our services. At The Crisis Center, not only do I field phone calls from community members in crises, but I also work to develop lesson plans and educational materials for our various community education and prevention programs.
I asked my co-worker how she would define her work. When asked what service meant to her, her initial response was “I’m over it.” As a senior in the PPCS program, my jaw dropped. You’re over service? I couldn’t make sense of this. I asked her to elaborate. She said, “I’m over the idea that my work is selfless service. I once thought that my work was only intended to serve those people- the ones who couldn’t help themselves. Now I know that, although we provide services for free, we are not simply servants of the community. If I thought of my work like that, I’d burn out and go broke by age 30. Rather, I like to think of my work as a two-way street. As I work to teach and advocate, I am also learning and being advocated for. In order to serve others, we also need to serve ourselves.” Her response is truer than anything I could have said. Sure, we serve to make the world a better place, but if we think that we don’t need to learn and grow to make that happen, we are simply not being honest.