By Shannon Pavlovcic
While the autumn temperatures dropped, Shippensburg University social work students were just warming up. Practice with Organizations and Communities, a macro practice class referred to as “POC,” is generally regarded as the climax of every social work student’s college career and requires students to identify a social justice issue in the campus or local community and to work toward making change within that community. Located in rural Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University was the perfect venue for this semester’s project planners. Projects benefitted local social services agencies, organizations, and populations.
In addition to offering students a real-life opportunity to practice macro-level skills such as networking and project development and implementation, social work students also had the unique ability to devote their semester’s work to enhancing the surrounding community. At the Ship World Party, an expo of sorts, the campus and local communities come to learn about many nations and cultures by eating food, reading posters, and collecting literature about each culture. “We wanted to provide the community with some cultural awareness. We educated about 250 people,” explained Brandy Lautsbaugh, a group member of Ship World Party.
Similarly, Christine Maxwell’s group sought to educate the community about individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. Called the Inclusive FUNd Tournament, this project brought together Shippensburg students and individuals with developmental disabilities over a friendly game of basketball. “We wanted to make people realize that these situations can be comfortable. We wanted to reduce stigma,” Maxwell explained.
These two projects sought to build community cohesion, to draw together and to educate diverse people about how much they all have to offer one another. The Inclusive FUNd Tournament also raised $80.00 for a friendship fund for activities in the future.
Three groups focused their attention on Shippensburg and other nearby communities. The Halloween Festival, an arts, crafts, and food extravaganza, raised money to support the People Assisting People (PAP) Foundation, an organization that gives Shippensburg residents money to assist with their medical needs. “Mostly, we just wanted to raise awareness about the foundation. All of the money we raised ($400.00) went directly to community members in need,” Kelli Bender, a social work student who helped organize the festival, reported.
Like the festival’s goals of raising funds and awareness, the Fall Into Relaxation group partnered with Cumberland/Perry Respite to auction off desirable products and raise money for a service that provides a few hours of respite for families of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Our contribution to the community was the partnership between the outside community and the campus community. Some people didn’t know what respite was, and when they learned, they were willing to donate,” says Meagan Rice of the Fall Into Relaxation project, which raised $689.00.
Clothes for the Code, another project that geared its efforts toward a neighboring community, responded to the needs of low-income families faced with a new dress code at a local high school. Laura Hoffstetter explains that they “went past the project” by making the clothing drive a local tradition that continues permanently.
Some groups used Shippensburg University as their springboard for community change. Brittani Procknow, of Homeless for a Night, wanted to educate the university community about homelessness as a social issue and also about local resources for persons facing homelessness. “We wanted to define it for people, and we wanted people to know what resources are available in the county,” she explained. The event was attend by 60 students and raised $80.00 for the homeless.
Also in the spirit of educating students about social issues, ACT (address, communicate, and teach) on Bullying facilitated a workshop for university students in an effort to teach them the signs, consequences, and interventions for various types of bullying. “We had a diverse group of students attend—students from many majors in the campus community. We wanted them to know that bullying doesn’t just happen in schools and that it should matter to them,” explained Emily McCollister, ACT on Bullying’s group leader. This activity was attended by 35 students.
Sabrina Baarda, of College Life: Ship Style, led a group to reach out to an often forgotten about population: children of migrant workers. This project offered 37 kids from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in Chambersburg School district a snapshot of college life, making it a possibility in their minds. “We wanted to support community families. They are the community, too,” Baarda stated.
Together, these eight groups of students cast their nets wide in an effort to catch the attention of both the local and university community members. There are often imperceptible forces at work in each community, and these students wanted to shine light on the unmet needs and available resources of a diverse community. Although each group painstakingly created measurable goals to evaluate project effectiveness, the true impact can never be measured. These students educated, advocated, fundraised, and changed a community in the best way they know how—through social work.
Shannon Pavlovcic is in her last semester of Shippensburg University's undergraduate social work program. Following graduation in May 2014, Shannon plans to work in the field while completing her MSW.