Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Service Learning in Mound Bayou

(Note: these are my personal reflections and in no way represent the official viewpoint of the City of Mound Bayou.  Link to the official Mound Bayou Facebook page here, and the city website here.)

The graduate students, one of our recent undergraduate students, and my colleague and I spent the day in Mound Bayou yesterday in a day of service learning.  It was my first opportunity since summer school ended and the fall semester began to have a chance to go.  My day started at 5 a.m., and for some of the students, it was even earlier.  It was anywhere from a 2 1/2-3 hour drive for most of them, and after a full day of service, the trip back home!  While we were all exhausted, we felt satisfied with our accomplishments, our learning, and our service to the community and individuals with whom we worked.  We were joined and greatly assisted by the administrative assistant for the Taborian Urgent Care Center Project.

Regular readers know that Mound Bayou has embarked upon a path of economic development and historic preservation, and one of the most important projects at this time is the restoration and renovation of the historic Taborian Hospital.  (You can learn more about the Taborian Hospital here and here).  Part of the process of economic development is not just creating jobs, but developing the human infrastructure so people are able to qualify for those jobs: the concept often called human capital.  Besides building buildings, programs, services, you build the capacity of people.  Very often, development opportunities in rural areas do not directly benefit the people living in those communities.  Those who take the jobs provided by development come in from other areas if the local labor force is not sufficiently prepared.

The City of Mound Bayou has undertaken the process of preparing that local labor force to make sure that people who live in the community have the best opportunity to participate in the economic benefits the Taborian Urgent Care Center will bring.  The project has undertaken a series of educational training opportunities for those interested, and the response has been good.  We were asked to assist by providing some individual assessments for those who have been participating, in order to develop a plan of action in terms of additional training, education, skill development, etc., in order to help ensure people will be competitive for the job opportunities that will arise from the opening of the Taborian Urgent Care Center.  That is capacity building: increasing the ability of the community to meet its own needs--something that is central to who Mound Bayou has been from its founding.

We arrived at 9 a.m., and the community facility had been set up with tables and chairs to accommodate the interview process.  We set up the printers and copiers, laid out the forms and dived into the day.  From 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. we met with over 40 people--at last count, we had seen 42, and a few more came after that.  Other than the small glitch when a couple of students had trouble finding the facility and were waiting at the wrong location, and my being a few minutes late with the printer/copier and having to take the time to set that up, we thought the day flowed smoothly.  Our able administrative assistant had organized everything and kept things moving throughout the day; folks came well-prepared with resumes, copies of transcripts, and a clear idea of what type of health care job they wanted, and they participated fully in the process of looking at strengths, skills, resources, needs, and developing a plan of action to get themselves to the next step.  It was systems theory at its best--elements interacting in relationship to produce an outcome that is bigger than any one element on its own.

Now frankly, I knew the students were quite capable of accomplishing our goals for the day.  They are, after all, currently social workers, practicing at the BSW level.  I already knew 6 of the students from their undergraduate work, and in the brief time I have known the other 2, can see their level of knowledge, skill, and commitment.  What I did not know before the day was the level of enthusiasm, integrity, and cooperation with which they would undertake the day's plans.  Let me just say that once again, it makes me proud to call these people my social work colleagues, and to know that I have the opportunity and privilege to be part of their education--and the opportunity and privilege to learn from them as well.  We are looking forward to the learning part of the process: where we analyze what we learned from the experience.  If you truly have service learning, in addition to the service, one has to have the  reflection of what learning occurred for the student or it is not service learning--it's just service.

Each of them expressed an interest in the outcome of this community's vision and work toward that vision, and their pleasure in being invited to participate.  Now that's what I like to see: students (and social workers) who understand the need to develop and improve their skills and ability to provide direct service, but also recognize the absolute necessity of attending to the environment in which individuals are either nurtured and encouraged, or are ignored and isolated.  After all, if we had more of those nurturing and encouraging community systems, we would need far less direct social service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great work social workers!!! You all make me proud to be a social worker. I did some interviews in Mound Bayou in the Spring, and their greatest concern was definitely economic development. You'll are helping this historical town prepare for growth. Dr. Allen, you are right; service without learning would not be a good thing.. Noone can go to MB, and not learn from it. It's just something about the town named "Mound Bayou".