Service has always been a significant component of the Anderson University Honors Program. Last year, Honors students gave hundreds of hours dedicated to service. One small, committed group of freshmen in the program exemplified this spirit of service and contributed an estimated 130 hours of service work last semester.
It began when one Honors course required its students to participate in a meaningful service-learning opportunity. This served as a bridge between academic studies of poverty and the real-world application of addressing social inequality. A group of 11 students, then all freshmen, began working with an Indianapolis-based organization called Rebuilding the Wall. Despite the fact that the requirement ended when the semester drew to a close, the group members have continued to improve the Indianapolis community through Rebuilding the Wall.
[Photo on left: Sophomores Kevin Sheward, Elijah Alvey and David Ragsdale work in Indianapolis for Rebuilding the Wall, a community effort they spent a semester investing in. The group did a significant amount of physical work, including construction.]
“My first week I met a guy named Doug,” recalled sophomore David Ragsdale of his experience with Rebuilding the Wall. “He was an ex-con from Anderson who was viciously attacked because of his race. There’s lots of brokenness in Anderson I didn’t know exists. That gave me more of a heart for improving my own community.”
The community-oriented organization Rebuilding the Wall is centered in a poverty-stricken area of Indianapolis. Its goal is to stabilize housing and income for residents in the area, and it utilizes a two-year program called the Thrive Program. When families enter the Thrive Program, they move into a temporary family home and work six hours each month on building other homes. The program teaches basic skills such as résumé-building, budgeting or balancing a checkbook. Once the home is complete, the family can buy back the home, which costs around $20,000, a fraction of the cost of a typical home.
“Chris, the founder of the organization, kept seeing family after family leave his neighborhood,” said sophomore Kevin Sheward of Rebuilding the Wall’s beginning. “Chris and his wife felt called to do more than their community Bible study and made a 30-year commitment [to the program].”
This was exactly the type of service effort Ragsdale and Sheward’s group searched for last spring when Dr. Bruce MacMurray assigned a service-learning project to correspond with lectures about poverty.
“In our country we look for something with a four-year fix,” said Sheward. “There are no statistics on the impact of owning homes in this neighborhood or having the ability to work and stay in one area. I just don’t think you can put that in numbers.”
For Ragsdale, the original concept of working with construction was second nature, but the project’s impact extended beyond doing a task well.
“My grandpa was a carpenter. He and my dad built houses together, and I grew up with construction. One of the reasons I wanted to work with construction was because it fit my skill set,” said Ragsdale. “Working with Rebuilding the Wall definitely put a new perspective on some things we were hearing in class. It gives a personal connection to the numbers.”
Dr. MacMurray intends to require a service project again next year, since all the groups within his class had positive results. [Photo on right: Sophomores Elijah Alvey, Kevin Sheward and David Ragsdale build a deck for one of the houses.]
“The major impact of the service-learning project is that it provides a real-world experiential sense of what social problems exist,” said Dr. MacMurray. “Rebuilding the Wall was unique because it addressed social inequality, the economically disadvantaged, faith-based initiatives and long-term solutions for such issues.”
— Kelly Frye is a junior from Elkhart, Ind., majoring in biology and communication arts. Frye is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.