Reaching Out and Giving Back
by Simone Dekryger (B.A. ’22)
Community on campus is a vital part of any college experience, but it doesn't have to be limited to a few residence halls or professors. Cornerstone University has developed a community on campus that is known for miles around, but they still strive for more. In years past, the university has worked to create that same experience of strong community off campus.
A History of Service
Service at Cornerstone has changed quite a bit since its beginning. It grew from a student requirement into Terra Firma, the university's traditional undergraduate student orientation program, and now includes a class entitled CU Foundations. It developed from service to service learning, adding an integrated, educational component. By creating peer groups led by dedicated upperclassmen, service learning works to invoke a safe learning experience. Students earn academic credit for their work with a local non-profit organization and then reflect on what they learned through the process. This process nurtures real meditation on the support they were able to offer to the greater West Michigan community, which in turn enhances the learning experience.
Cornerstone continues to make positive changes like creating the new position of service and career development specialist. This role assists the university in staying committed to long-time partners, developing new partnerships and adapting service times so students have adequate time to build strong relationships with the children they work with. The commitment to the education of students and support of outside organizations are both strong motivators for the school.
Mindy Worley, service and career development specialist, works closely with the university's external partner organizations, staying in touch and gathering feedback to ensure that the experience is as mutually beneficial as possible.
"We are all part of the body of Christ, we're all part of the kingdom and children are a part of that," Worley said. "Children are part of the world that needs to be ministered to and see the gospel."
"As a Christian community, we've prioritized the value of serving the community," said Dr. Shannon Pothoven, director of student success. Service learning offers a unique way of reaching out while also educating students. As part of the curriculum for CU Foundations, a class designed to integrate incoming students on college life and build a strong foundation for the coming years, students work with organizations such as Base Camp, Community Kids, Urban Family Ministry and many others. There are various faith-based ministries as well as non-faith-based ones.
The service projects focus on work with local children. Students have the opportunity to work closely with these children and be positive role models. At the end of the semester, professors ask for reflections on their time serving. Not only are they able to develop lasting relationships, but it also gives students real experience. As Worley said, "It's something that will be applicable beyond the Cornerstone experience because kids are always going to be a part of your world in one way or another."
One of the organizations Cornerstone partners with is Base Camp, a ministry devoted to supporting inner-city kids. Offering programs such as Heights Educational Learning Program (HELP), Reach Out And Read (ROAR) and many others, Base Camp works to aid children in their education, providing resources to help them reach their full potential. Cornerstone has partnered with Base Camp since its start 28 years ago.
Director Kelly Ellis, a Cornerstone alumna, said "I am so thankful for our partnership with Cornerstone. Honestly, it is invaluable to us as an organization. So many of our kids lack positive role models in their lives—and especially positive role models that an older sibling can provide—and the freshness and youthfulness of the CU students is key to our kids seeing how young people can live a relationship with Christ out in their everyday lives. CU brings an energy and excitement to our programs that not just any volunteer can provide."
In addition to this, the topics discussed in lectures are meant to expose these young adults to what is going on in the world. In the past year, they went over creation care. For the 2019-20 school year, discussions will consider the human trafficking crisis.
"We need to be able to listen to people who are different from us, and this is a great step into that," Pothoven said.
Service learning directly connects students to the community of Grand Rapids, and education about global issues connects them to the worldwide community. It has made such an impact that various alumni, including Ellis, now serve full time in nonprofit organizations.
College means more than just educating students for a specific career field at Cornerstone. It is about preparing them for a Christ-centered life outside of school and shaping adults who will go out into the world with servant hearts.