As the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Service-Learning Program (SLP), I am tasked with understanding the needs and experiences of our community. This often happens in one-on-one meetings, but I learn most when our community partners are able to share their experience collectively. This year, I was able to host two community-wide events for this purpose.
In fall and spring, I hosted half-day workshops open to representatives from organizations and agencies throughout our community, bringing together those who regularly partner with the SLP and those I was meeting for the first time. These workshops were aimed at understanding their experience of partnering with IU-Bloomington, and the SLP in particular. The events, titled “Listening to Communities,” were made possible by a grant from Indiana Campus Compact, which offered funds for programming that builds campus-community dialogue and gives the community space to share their thoughts on the institution’s community engagement efforts.
I was fortunate co-host with Lucy Schaich, Interim Director of Bloomington Volunteer Network, and Efrat Feferman, Executive Director of United Way of Monroe County. Their support in planning and facilitating ensured we were focused on and driven by community.
I wanted to share four take-aways for our conversations. While the tips draw on Lucy and Efrat’s reflections on planning, they parallel themes that emerged in group conversation. Use these tips to consider community need and capacity as you explore community-engaged learning for your course.
Plan ahead: Establish relationships with organizations with whom you would like to partner. Get to know the organization prior to the semester of teaching. This could include doing service yourself, in addition to meeting with the organization to discuss goals for the class.
Plan with your partner: Rather than approaching an organization and explaining how the semester will unfold, ask your partner what their ideal semester would look like. Can you work together to identify an opportunity that would meet a need in your class? Invite your partner to set the agenda with you.
Consider the details: Have you explored how the experience would work for community partners, including the time for training, communicating with, and educating your students? What about the resources required for a visit to your course, from time to parking costs?
Have a plan for moving forward: What will you share with your community partner? If there are deliverables or presentations, are partners invited to see and give feedback on these final products? Do you debrief and reflect on the partnership with your community partner after the semester has completed? As you wrap up your partnership, remember our partners do not live on the academic calendar. Continuity is one of our partners’ greatest challenges. How can we build partnerships that go beyond one semester of service and build lasting, meaningful relationships with community partners?
SLP staff members are on hand all summer to support partnership development and community-engaged learning course development. To discuss your partnerships, reach out to Megan Betz (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a consultation and support in building relationships and finding partners.