SLS Lets ‘Knowledge Serve the City’

You’ve likely seen the quote “Let knowledge serve the city” plastered around the Portland State campus at some point, but have you ever thought about the meaning behind it?

The Student Leaders for Service at PSU operate by those words as they connect students, alumni and the rest of the community with volunteer opportunities to enhance civic engagement around the campus and city.

Fawn Livingston-Gray, the current interim program coordinator for SLS, elaborated on how this group brings knowledge into the city.

“We’re here to provide direct service by examining underlying social issues and creating connectedness at PSU,” Livingston-Gray said.

Although SLS consists mostly of student leader members, any PSU student with a desire to get involved can participate. It is a student leader’s job to recruit students to work at their individual partnership’s sites.

With a wide variety of volunteer options available, even those with a hectic schedule can pick up these smaller service jobs. For example, the Start Making A Reader Today program allows volunteers to give reading support to children in Title I (high poverty) schools for as little as one hour per week.

Student leader members, however, have a bit of a larger obligation—a one academic year commitment. Each student leader volunteers five to 10 hours per week and attends community service days, as well as meetings.

Members must also find a community site to host his or her services.

Currently there are 10 organizations currently hosting SLS members, including Habitat for Humanity, New Avenues for Youth and Rose Haven, a women’s support shelter.

The rest of the SLS staff work together to put on a variety of volunteering events and programs, such as the upcoming Alder Mentor Program, along with alternative spring break trips and days of service.

Students Mentoring Students

The mentoring program at Alder Elementary School in the Reynolds School District will occur in winter and spring terms. It partners with the I Have a Dream Foundation to encourage the long-term academic success of low-income public school students from kindergarten and up.

PSU student mentors will visit the children at Alder Elementary 10 times over the course of the program. Their job is to infuse the idea of higher education into each of these students while enlightening them of the opportunities college unveils.

Darin Smith, the AmeriCorps program associate and leader of the Alder Elementary mentoring program, is excited to get started.

“There is a huge dedication to these children [at Alder Elementary] to have an opportunity for college,” Smith said. “Every single class has been adopted by the I Have a Dream Foundation.”

Although this is the second year for the Alder Mentor Program, it is the first instance where the IHADF has been involved with an entire school, rather than just one class.

This ongoing program will track the academic success of each student who is involved, starting from kindergarten and continuing throughout their educational path.

Shyvonne Williams, the Alder Elementary program manager for the I Have a Dream Foundation, notices the changes happening in these children already.

“These kids will be the first generation of their families to attend college,” Williams said. “They are becoming more familiar with college and aware that they are going to go. Having the college students visit us, as well as having the children visit college campuses, inspires these children and increases their chances of post-high school education.”

SLS also offers alternative spring break trips every year at PSU and always includes multiple options to choose from. In the spring of 2014, students will be able to partake in a trip to San Francisco to address the urban poverty and homelessness issues, or head to the Oregon coast to focus on rural agriculture.

“These trips are focused on service, so they are low-cost…for students who want to serve while traveling over their spring break,” Livingston-Gray said.

SLS also puts on days of service each quarter to encourage the involvement of the community—especially students—in civic engagement.

The latest service day was held at the end of Portland State of Mind and brought work to several areas of the city in need as well as beyond to Forest Park.

The next service event will be the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, held on Jan. 20, where community issues will be addressed and served by numerous volunteer projects.

“Capture Your Service” is a new program that provides web space for uploaded photos of volunteer work being done This SLS program is designed to display visuals of the service culture at PSU. Submitters could have their photos posted around campus or on the SLS Facebook and web page.

“We want to increase the visibility of awareness around our campus; people don’t always get to see service in action,” Livingston-Gray said.

The staff over at SLS is eager to include every PSU student in the service opportunities offered.

“Portland is a great area for volunteering,” Smith said. “I am invigorated by how energized people here are to give back. Student Leaders for Service encourages all participation from students as well as non-students, including faculty and the community, to take advantage of the opportunities.”