This summer, Columbia College P.L.A.C.E. Fellows are delivering the P.L.A.C.E. Gable Oaks Summer Program, providing a variety of educational and recreational activities for local youth in the Gable Oaks Community in Eau Claire.
The Mission of the P.L.A.C.E. Fellows is to strategically collaborate with like-minded individuals and nonprofits to augment new and existing community impact efforts. P.L.A.C.E. creates future community leaders committed to philanthropy (actively using gifts to leverage change for human welfare), leadership (assuming personal responsibility to influence change), and community engagement (working with other individuals and organizations to maximize change).
Participation in this four-year experience is competitive and based on volunteer history, academic accomplishments, leadership strengths and passion for enacting positive change both on and off campus. A cohort of 10 students is selected each fall.
Dr. Tamara Burk, Program Coordinator of Communication and Director of Leadership Studies at Columbia College, directs the P.L.A.C.E. Fellows Program, funded by The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. Sisters of Charity is a charitable foundation that strategically uses resources to reduce poverty through action, advocacy and leadership.
“2016 will be the fourth year of the P.L.A.C.E. program,” said Dr. Burk. “As of this fall, the Sisters of Charity have graciously provided $100,000 in funding, which has had a significant impact on the P.L.A.C.E. Fellows and our community partners. It is truly meaningful to be part of something that facilitates transformational learning for all involved.”
Each 10-student cohort is supported by a $25,000 grant over four years, which provides P.L.A.C.E. Fellows with the opportunity to earn a minor in Leadership Studies, network with community partners, experience two paid internships with nonprofit organizations and create a capstone project that best suits their interests.
At the P.L.A.C.E. Gable Oaks Summer Program, fellows and other volunteers lend their skills and expertise to engage participants in science projects, arts and crafts, reading and math activities and community building exercises.
“There is something truly significant about participating in P.L.A.C.E.,” said Lauren Fleming, a fellow serving as the summer program’s team leader. “I get to study philanthropy and help instigate change to positively impact South Carolina. What’s unique about P.L.A.C.E. is that it is multidisciplinary. Whatever a student’s area of study or even a personal passion, it can be utilized as a force of good in the community.”
Learning social skills such as team cooperation, the role of personal responsibility and respect for others are also woven into the Gable Oaks Summer Program experience. Each day’s activities begin with reviewing the basic rules of conduct and why those rules benefit everyone involved. Participants learn about being good citizens for their community and how kindness, respect, empathy, honesty and responsibility are the best ingredients for healthy interpersonal relationships and cooperation.
“These kids are really smart,” said Katie Odom, an early childhood education major who is volunteering with Gable Oaks to gain valuable experience toward her ultimate goal of becoming a teacher. “Today we talked about the lost Colony of Roanoke in Virginia. They were fascinated by that.”
Dr. Burk is passionate about the Gable Oaks Summer Program and P.L.A.C.E.’s role in supporting it. “I like to describe the role of fellows and non-fellow volunteers as being on the front lines of instigating change in their community,” said Dr. Burk. “It can be messy, imperfect, exhausting, exhilarating and you’ll swear you won’t do it anymore and then the next day you’re back with a smile on your face jumping right in.”
The program is a continuation of summer programming for youth originally established two decades ago by Dr. Mary Myers, a resident of the community who is a tireless advocate for providing enriching activities for local children. But this summer, Dr. Myers was unavailable to provide that programming, so the P.L.A.C.E. fellows stepped in to help.
According to Dr. Burk, Gable Oaks is a privately owned community within Eau Claire, recently purchased by a group of investors whose goal is integrating a formula for asset-based community development. A new community center is being built as part of that development and will offer an afterschool program for youth, among many other community resources. But the center will not be completed until August.
“We didn’t want the kids to go without any summer programs, so P.L.A.C.E. stepped in to bridge the gap until the new community center is up and running,” said Dr. Burk. “And this is exactly the type of thing that falls within the mission of Sisters of Charity. It is a wonderful opportunity for our P.L.A.C.E. Fellows to get some boots-on-the- ground experience right in the community, in which they live.”
P.L.A.C.E. Fellow Lauren Fleming (left) and Columbia College volunteer Katie Odom engage kids with a fun art activity (photo provided)