This story is featured in the Winter 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine. In honor of National Volunteer Week April 10-16, discover how HPU’s commitment to community service truly makes it High Point’s University.
They feed the hungry and find new ways to grow and distribute food in their city. They open books and share stories with refugee children who are learning to speak a new language.
With paint and elbow grease, they brighten community spaces.
And they do it all with a badge of purple on their back.
When Dr. Nido Qubein became president at High Point University, he created a transformational vision not only for HPU, but for what the campus could mean to its community.
“We’re under the leadership of someone who took this presidency and transformed this university because of a commitment to the city it’s in,” says Dr. Joseph Blosser, the Robert G. Culp Jr. director of service learning. “Dr. Qubein cares about High Point and knows the university can be an engine for the city.”
Learning through Service
One of the largest indicators of the university’s renewed commitment to community-based programs is Qubein’s three-year appointment as chairman of the N.C. Campus Compact.
Campus Compact is a national organization headquartered in Boston that builds the capacity of colleges and universities to produce civically-engaged graduates and strengthen communities. In North Carolina, 30 colleges and universities are members.
Qubein’s leadership of the N.C. chapter reflects the infrastructure that’s been built at HPU to support and celebrate the value of service.
When Blosser arrived to serve as the university’s first full-time director of service learning in 2011, there were some professors and groups on campus focused on giving back in their own ways. But they weren’t united in a common cause. He advocated for service learning courses to be offered through HPU’s four-credit-hour model. Just as classes were already utilizing the fourth hour, or 25 percent of the course, for experiential learning such as undergraduate research, so, too, could professors use the fourth hour for service. And not only service, but service that supplemented classroom content. Thus service learning classes were born and students began to give back in ways relevant to their majors.
Exercise science majors taught immigrants how to cook healthy meals with American food. A history course led students to create a digital, historical archive for an African American community in the city.
“Our students made connections between the literature they read on globalization and the cultural experiences they had in the community,” said Dr. Cara Kozma, assistant professor of English. At the nearby Macedonia Family Resource Center, her English students tutored refugee children and families from Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq.
University-sponsored grants were offered to faculty to receive training on leading service learning courses. And Blosser established two major programs on campus — AmeriCorps VISTAs and Bonner Leaders — programs that have spiked service hours.
In a few short years, the university’s annual hours of service soared from 30,000 to 100,000.
A Day On, Not Off
To understand the magnitude of those service hours, consider the one day each year when the impact of HPU’s service is amplified.
It happens on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and though classes are canceled, students and community members unite for “A Day On, Not Off.”
In 2014, 400 HPU family members took to the community on this day and completed dozens of service projects totaling 1,200 hours of service.
In 2015 and 2016, those numbers increased to 600 students, faculty and staff completing nearly 1,500 hours of service, 35 projects, raising thousands of dollars and packing thousands of meals.
This single day is held in honor of the legacy of the late King, and it shows that in a short amount of time, change can be made and relationships can be built.
“This day is always a great way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said 2015 graduate Kevin Garrity, while working on the landscaping team at West End Ministries. “He was concerned with forwarding the human race, and when you give back to any group, it honors what he did and his memory.”
The event is organized by students, including the VISTAs and Bonners. For some, it is an extension of service. For others, it is their first introduction to serving in the community.
But this single day has made service highly visible and highly accessible to anyone, and that’s the point.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the future of High Point will continue to be shaped by the growth and generosity of HPU,” says Bobby Smith, president of United Way of Greater High Point. “It touches every single resident in the greater High Point area.”
Bringing Something to the Table
One of the most concentrated areas of service in the city is the elimination of food deserts — neighborhoods without access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.
A national report identified several such neighborhoods in High Point this year. In response, community leaders formed a Greater High Point Food Alliance to tackle the challenges. The alliance leaders included Blosser and the VISTAs, who quickly dedicated themselves to creating solutions that would alleviate problems.
A strategic communication class led by professor Shannon Campbell had a unique approach. They wanted to use their talents in marketing and communications to benefit the cause. So they did what strategic marketing professionals do best — they planned and promoted a major community event where vital information could be shared.
It was called the Food Summit and it was held, with hundreds in attendance, at the High Point University Community Center for two days. Leaders gathered there and penned ideas that could serve as solutions — community gardens, mobile farmer’s markets and healthy cooking classes, to name a few.
After those communication students had done their part in successfully executing this event, they planned and executed another. This time, it was a cooking demonstration featuring well-known local restaurant chefs. It begged the questions: Can healthy meals be cooked quickly and at low cost? Can they be cooked using the items those in need receive from food pantries?
The chefs took the challenge to task and cooked meals with simple ingredients, which helped low-income neighbors understand better ways to eat healthy. It also made leaders of the city realize how challenging it can be to assemble a healthy dinner with items that are given away at pantries.
In the end, they successfully brought people together again to consider hunger and how to improve it.
Their efforts were honored by the High Point Chamber of Commerce and the Food Alliance at the end of the semester. The students left with professional experience and new ways to relate their talents to community issues.
“I had no idea we would make such an impact on this community,” Campbell said. “I will never forget the experiences with any of the people we worked with.”
Moving Forward Together
The service efforts on behalf of the HPU family have risen to a new level. They’re more visible and have increased in quantity and improved in quality. And the numbers are impressive — thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours.
But for those who serve, the real impact is evident most often through smaller, anecdotal moments in the community.
At an annual meeting of the United Way of Greater High Point, packed with community volunteers and nonprofit leaders, one of the organization’s board of directors asked members of the audience a simple question.
“Raise your hand if your organization has been positively impacted by High Point University,” UWGHP board member Vicki Miller told the crowd.
A sea of hands went up.
“It was really impressive. Every nonprofit had their hand up,” Blosser said.
Blosser received the Spirit of Advocacy award at the event, where HPU students also spoke of their volunteer work and gratitude to be connected to the community.
Afterwards, he went back to his office and continued making plans — plans for the service learning classes for 2015 –2016 academic year, for the new VISTAs and their service sites, for the Bonner Leaders and much more.
All with this in mind:
“We have moved to long-term, intentional partnerships,” he says. “In communities, there are anchor institutions. Anchor institutions are cornerstones that have been here for many years, and the rest of the community looks up to them. They have an implicit responsibility to their neighbors because of who and where they are. We are developing intentional partnerships based on that. We don’t want to help here and there. We want to help all the time and create major impact.”
View this story and more in the Winter 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine: