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Reaching out to community an important component of a Gallaudet education

June 1, 2012
By Todd Byrd
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Gallaudet prides itself on instilling the value of good citizenship to its students. Whether it is reaching out just beyond the boundaries of Kendall Green or to deaf communities in developing nations, becoming an active and engaged world citizen is an essential component of a Gallaudet education.

In just the last few weeks, various constituents on the campus community have organized a 5-kilometer race/walk to benefit youth leadership programs within the National Association of the Deaf (NAD); raised money for a second summer deaf/CODA camp in earthquake-ravaged Haiti; hosted a tea party with Gallaudet First Lady Vicki Hurwitz to raise funds for the National Deaf People of Color Conference, with proceeds benefiting families, children, youth, and high school programs; held a game night to raise funds for the deaf community in Guyana; co-sponsored a spirited evening of performances by professional and amateur dancers to benefit an organization which helps to end domestic violence and sexual violence in the deaf community; and organized a scenic bicycle tour led by President Hurwitz to raise funds for the Gallaudet University Alumni Association’s Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund, which promotes projects and activities leading to the cultural enrichment of deaf people.

This outpouring of generosity shows without question: Gallaudet cares. As undergraduate student speaker Joy Frachineaud said in her address to the Class of 2012 at Gallaudet’s 143rd Commencement on May 11, the well-rounded blend of academics, internships, volunteer activities, and involvement with campus organizations that the University offers, “have helped me to become a strong woman and leader.” According to Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky, a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures who is well known on campus for getting students involved in human rights causes, Frachineaud’s statement is a testimony that “the University’s General Studies curriculum has done a great job at getting students engaged in service projects that deal with real-life issues that affect the lives of people, particularly deaf people, and their communities.”

Many of the community service projects taken on by student organizations, which are required to perform two projects each semester, as well as some of the service learning projects that faculty members incorporate into their academic courses, are arranged by Gallaudet’s Office of Community Service Programs. Many of these opportunities are available through partnerships formed by the University with local citizens, social service agencies, schools, and government agencies.

Between September 2011 and May 2012, student organizations participated in 33 events for a total of 3,991 hours, said Community Service Programs Coordinator Karen Terhune, She said almost every student who takes on a community service project finds it an empowering experience, and it is very common for student organizations to take on more than what is required of them: Delta Epsilon Sorority, for example, completed eight this year. “Students benefit from community service,” said Terhune. “They develop leadership skills, self-confidence, and a positive work ethic.” She added that studies show that when people become civically involved at a young age, they are likely to continue the pattern throughout their lives.

The foot race and walk, hosted by the Kappa Gamma Fraternity, drew 320 registrants and raised over $6,000 for NAD youth programs. Kappa Gamma decided to host the event because “we wanted to do something different, something innovative that wouldn’t just target students, but also other members of the campus and local communities,” said Kappa Gamma President Colin Whited. NAD, being the premier organization for the rights of deaf people in the U.S., was an obvious choice for Kappa Gamma brothers, many of whom were involved in one or more of NAD’s youth programs. “We had a great cause, and most importantly everyone was able to come out on a beautiful Saturday morning and have fun. It was truly a community event that featured students, faculty, staff, alumni, and even members of the local community that had never set foot on Kendall Green,” said Whited. “These funds will support NAD youth leadership programs, which are comprised of Junior NAD, Youth Leadership Camp, College Bowl, and Miss Deaf America (which will be changed to a youth competition format in 2014),” said NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum. “These programs train hundreds of youth leaders every year to become advocates who support our mission: to promote, protect, and preserve the civil, human, and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing people.”

The second annual Biking with Gallaudet President Hurwitz fundraising event on May 12 was a success, according to event coordinators Roberta Gage and Janet Weinstock. Riders had the opportunity to choose either 15 or 30 mile routes, and they said it was gratifying to see 60 people of all ages come together as a community to support the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund in a healthy way. Both routes began on Kendall Green, went through the Nation’s Capital and scenic Old Town Alexandria, Va., and back to campus where the Office of the President hosted a BBQ at House One.

The May 4 game night, held in the JSAC Multipurpose Room and sponsored by Seeing Eyes-Signing Hands, Inc. (SESH), a not-for-profit voluntary service organization, and Gallaudet’s Center for International Programs and Services (CIPS), helped raise money for much-needed educational material for the David Rose School for the Deaf in Guyana. In 2010, CIPS and the English Language Institute (ELI) donated 300 books to the school. “We, the SESH team, are very thankful and humbled by all of the support shown by the Gallaudet University community,” said the organization’s founder, Tracey Cholmondeley, who attended the David Rose school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and later enrolled at Gallaudet, where she earned degrees in 1992 and 1997. “SESH has been very fortunate to have the Gallaudet University community and sponsorship by CIPS/ELI for many events, bringing awareness to what SESH’s work involves and helping deaf Guyanese.”

The “Moves for Money” fundraising event on May 1, co-sponsored by Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN) and Dr. Kathryn Baldridge’s GSR 300.03 Capstone course, was held in the Field House gym and featured live performances from Def Nation Royals, Bison With Attitude, and students, as well as a staff and faculty dance auction. Moves for the Money, along with an April 4 Teal Ribbon Day, where the GSR 300 class asked students, faculty, and staff to donate at least $1 for a teal ribbon and to wear blue jeans and a white shirt to show their support to end sexual violence, raised $3,000 to support DAWN.

Students from Berdichevsky’s French 111 online course and Sylvie Marc-Charles’ and Paul Simmons ‘ GSR 211 “The International Disability Rights Movement and its Impact on Culture and Identity” course, in partnership with International Deaf Partnerships and Service to Serve Haiti (STSH), sponsored the April 29 “Hearts and Hands for Haiti.” This was a festive evening of Haitian food, dance, music, storytelling, and a silent auction of Haitian arts and crafts to raise monies for a second summer deaf/CODA camp in Haiti. “The Gallaudet community is very generous and we always find people who are willing to donate money and time to help us with our projects. For example, (associate professor) Amy Stevens donated her time to design the tickets and the program for the event, and four Gallaudet interpreters donated their time to interpret for free. …We were honored to have (Gallaudet First Lady) Vicki Hurwitz and (Gallaudet trustee) Claudia Gordon as our speakers.” The event was successful, raising $3,000. “Of course, we still need more funds to be able to open the camp to 120 kids,” she added. To accomplish this, the organizers are working on various fundraisers strategies, including an online auction of Haitian arts and crafts, a raffle and a campaign to sponsor a kid to camp, and continuing their collaboration with STSH, a group of Washington, D.C. professionals, that began last fall when the organization heard about the success of the first deaf/CODA camp in Haiti last summer.

“For me, service and leadership go hand in hand. I can’t imagine a better and more rewarding way for students to develop leadership skills and a passion for justice than through service,” said Berdichevsky. “I am very proud of our GSR curriculum. … I believe it has been very successful in providing students with the opportunity to learn about themselves, to think critically about the world outside the gates, and to engage in meaningful activities through service learning to promote deaf solidarity in the U.S. and abroad.” She added, “As Gallaudet University is getting ready to celebrate its 150th birthday, it seems very appropriate to reflect on the different types of communities that are built within and beyond its gates.”

For more information about Gallaudet’s community service programs, click here.

1 June 2012
By Todd Byrd

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Todd Byrd

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