Service to the community takes time and energy. That energy can be spent smashing windows and tearing down sheetrock. Or it can be spent listening and trying to solve problems for others.
Members of the newest class of Bonner Leaders at Washburn University’s Learning in the Community program did both on a recent two-day trip to Omaha, Neb.
During the trip, 24 Washburn students worked with Omaha’s inCommon Community Development. While helping to gut a building the students began their orientation to the year-long service commitment they have made to a local group or agency. They also received training from inCommon, a non-profit neighborhood-based service provider, on how to listen to someone’s story to discover how best to help them.
“What we did got us started for what’s to come in the future for all of us,” said Ashley Haltom, an incoming sophomore from Wichita studying elementary education.
Junior Levi Keller said the listening training prepared them all to do meaningful work. Personally, said Keller, a Topekan who is studying biology with a pre-medicine emphasis, “I’m here to learn people’s stories.” Knowing how to do that well will “cause me to be a better practitioner, a better human being and to be able to return things back to the community.”
Rick Ellis, director of the LinC program, said the timing was perfect for LinC and inCommon Community Development to partner. The Omaha group recently took possession of a nearly 100-year-old warehouse it hopes will open next year as Park Avenue Commons, a community support center. The agency needed help with demolition and LinC needed listening project trainers.
“We believe this is something [our students] can implement in working here in Topeka,” Ellis said of the listening project training.
Calvin Smothers, Park Avenue Commons director, said the Ichabods were a great asset.
“They did a fabulous job. We got tons done that day,” he said of the demolition. And he was impressed with the LinC program’s mission. “That group, what they’re doing is amazing. It’s a great opportunity for those students.”
Smothers said any listening project has three phases. The students were trained on how to research a topic, listen to those affected by that topic and then organize around it.
Delanie Atterberry, a junior in psychology from Topeka, said the training taught her how to “listen to a complete stranger and how to get to know their story.”
Maureen Magana-Rodriguez, a sophomore in biology from Topeka who plans to open a free clinic in Mexico after graduation from medical school, said she was inspired.
“You’re already helping somebody, even if you don’t see it right now.”