This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine, headed soon to a mailbox near you. As High Point University grows, so too does its positive effect on the city of High Point.
Melanie Maldonado is beginning to see it.
Her work as a High Point University student embedded in community service is making an impact.
She sees it at the YWCA career closet, where women in need come to receive a professional outfit to wear to a job interview. Those women tell her thank you, and she can tell they mean it.
“The outfit builds up their confidence, and that’s just as important,” she says.
It happens in an elementary classroom, where she volunteers to teach children about healthy foods at an early age. The children go home and ask their parents if they can have zucchini or carrots as part of their dinner. They didn’t know what a zucchini was before she taught them.
And then she sees it on her campus when she asks a fellow student to join her for a volunteer opportunity. They do, and they keep coming back to volunteer.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Maldonado says community impact can’t happen without these three things: persistence, teamwork and patience.
But with them, relationships can blossom, resources can be created and great things can be accomplished.
“I’ve learned that improving communities is a lot of work behind the scenes that you don’t necessarily get rewarded for or see progress from right away,” says the junior from New Mexico. “But you will see it over time, and it’s worth it.”
Maldonado is a Bonner Leader, a program that’s part of High Point University’s commitment to the city.
It’s a commitment that’s increased measurably over time, and just like Maldonado’s work, the positive impact becomes more noticeable each day.
Developing Leaders through Service
The Bonner Leader program brings to campus a group of students who have a mission in the community.
These students apply to be part of the program that will require at least 300 hours of service from them annually for four years, though probably much more, and a schedule filled with community work on top of academics.
In return, they receive a wealth of experience — the kind that can’t be taught in a classroom.
“The Bonner Program immerses students in problem-based learning,” says Dr. Joe Blosser, the Robert G. Culp Jr. director of service learning who oversees the program. “That means that in much of what they do, they don’t even realize they’re learning and working through real-world problems with really diverse groups of people and dealing with the frustrations of projects in the real world where sometimes things don’t go as planned.
“But that’s exactly what they’re learning, and it’s making them stronger.”
Like when Maldonado took on the task to help plan, promote and execute the YWCA’s annual International Women’s Night. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity, but it required her to put in a lot of hours and pull together a lot of resources to make it happen.
“It took weeks and so much coordination,” she says. “But when I saw women from different cultural backgrounds come together that night to dance and laugh and fellowship, I saw how this program and my work actually helped people in the community. That was my reward.”
When the Bonners move into their second year, they receive a site selection — a nonprofit where they serve for the next three to four years. And they also serve on campus as volunteer coordinators. With access to 4,500 undergraduate students as their peers, they’re constantly connecting these students and their talents with agencies that need them.
“We want them to commit to an agency so they can deepen their relationships and responsibilities there,” says Blosser. “The nonprofits we’ve worked with have moved from seeing Bonners as volunteers to seeing them as staff. They place more responsibility on them with higher expectations than they do with regular volunteers. When students are gone on spring or fall or other breaks, the nonprofits really miss them.
“But that’s our goal — for the Bonners to build the capacity of local nonprofits.”
Part of HPU’s holistic approach to education is a focus on values. High Point University President Nido Qubein often talks about the way the campus instills values in its students. “You can’t teach values,” he says. “Instead, our faculty and staff model a values-based approach to life. Students see, they watch, they listen and they learn.”
That’s why HPU, as one of the city’s anchor institutions, makes significant commitments to city organizations and services. In the last year, the university committed $110,000 to the High Point Fire Department, which used the funds to purchase new self-contained breathing apparatuses and 92 face pieces. The new equipment heightens safety for the city’s fire fighters.
The university also made an investment for local children by underwriting the new Splash Park at the YMCA and naming it in honor of HPU alumna and community leader Carlvena Foster. Other gifts, including $10,000 to High Point Community Against Violence, were invested locally.
When students become part of a campus that embraces giving back, they too learn to give.
Like the group of students who began The Food Recovery Network — a structured way to donate surplus food from campus to Open Door Ministries, a nonprofit that serves three meals a day, seven days a week, to those in need.
“It warmed my heart to see my friends at Open Door Ministries eating nutritious foods such as fresh vegetables and chicken,” said HPU student organizer Haley Slone. “I hope that the bond between the students and the community continues to grow through this effort.”
Or the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which Maldonado helps organize. It’s a single day where students contribute more than 1,500 hours of service to 34 projects.
Each project moves the city forward, even if a little at a time. Maldonado didn’t see it at first, but now she sees it in the faces of the women and children she works with who know her and depend on her.
She’s on the track to medical school, and she knows it won’t be easy. But she’s a skilled problem solver now who knows how to build relationships in a community and find solutions together.
“My experience would be completely different if I wasn’t rooted in the community,” Maldonado says. “I may be busy all the time, but it’s worth it.”
Connecting Curriculum and Community
HPU faculty are strong advocates of the community too, and they know that in each class, there’s an opportunity to develop curriculum that meets a need.
While the Bonner Leaders are in motion, Blosser is also coordinating several dozen service learning classes that put other students in service leadership positions.
The classes range from video game design majors helping children find a creative outlet after school by designing their own video game, to English majors reading and writing poetry with senior citizens who are battling dementia or chronic pain.
Allison Walker, the professor who leads the English class, has conducted research and led students to conduct research on how reading and writing workshops are actually a form of “narrative medicine” — a way to improve certain conditions that ail the elderly.
“Our students have become empathetic listeners for these older adults,” says Walker. “Both have challenged each other to see joy and good in different circumstances. Even if this isn’t directly tied to a student’s major, we will all experience aging in our lives and the process of becoming older. It’s a human experience that they’ve now shared with someone else.”
And in this cycle of connecting classes and Bonners to community organizations, Blosser has brought on three AmeriCorps VISTAs that HPU hosts by providing free housing, meals and office space — all to keep the plates spinning within the programs that offer students avenues to give back.
It’s reflective of something Qubein can be heard saying at dozens of events in the community.
“We are High Point’s University,” he says. “We are passionate about making a difference in our community by bringing new people to live and learn and work here, and by developing them as leaders who understand that in life, there are no unrealistic dreams. Every day that we wake up is a new opportunity to accomplish great things.”
View this story and more in the Fall 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine: