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For Gonzaga University students Community action and service learning introduce Jesuit values for service, justice

By Mary Hazuka

Gonzaga University's Center for Community Action and Service Learning (CCASL) plant seeds of the Jesuit identity of service and justice .

Gonzaga CCASL

Todd Dunfield and Sima Thorpe

As CCASL helps students be involved in the community through service-action programs, it transforms them to become active participants in their communities after graduation.

“A high number of graduates go on to serve in the Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Teach for America. Service is a pathway for students to become dynamic members of their communities for their whole lives,” said Sima Thorpe, assistant dean of students and founder and director at CCASL, which now has 32 programs, eight of which are mentoring programs.

“It is the realization of a long-term dream to see how the program has progressed. About 2,800 students annually are involved in  service,” she said. “There are  service-learning classes in almost every department with 90 faculty involved and 1,500 students participating in more than 30 classes each semester.”

CCASL provides different programs to attract students to service related to their interests and studies.

Todd Dunfield, the associate director of CCASL, started  as a mentor  with Campus Kids, one of the first mentoring programs. Since graduating from Gonzaga University in 2000, he has helped the program grow, serving through AmeriCorps from 2000 to 2001.

He attributes the success of GU mentoring programs to the many students who return every year.

“They come back to  mentoring programs, such as Campus Kids. About 45 percent of student mentors are sophomores.  We don’t  recruit freshman until late spring,” Todd said.

Campus Kids mentoring after school on campus has helped at-risk children in fourth through sixth grades succeed in academics and relationship building for 15 years.  Many mentors work with the same student for several years.

“Students are great role models for at-risk children.  There are positive learning outcomes for both the children and the student mentors,” Sima said.

Senior Lindsey Friessnig, who has participated for three years, said, “It’s a way for me to integrate service into my Gonzaga routine. By spending a few hours a week with my fellow mentors and mentees, it has demonstrated how easy it is to take a step back from life in college and to do something for others. It has also been an opportunity to learn about social justice issues that impact our schools and communities.”

Student teams do homework and educational games together. One Saturday a month, students and mentees do activites, such as trips to a skating rink or apple picking at Green Bluff.

“Three years ago, I met my bouncy, bright-eyed mentee and had no idea what to expect,” Lindsey said.  She has found consistency crucial:  “Always being there when I say I will is a little act that goes a long way and establishes trust,” she said.

Other mentoring programs offered are Student Mentoring in Life and Education (SMILE), building self-esteem; Earthbound, teaching sustainability, and Zag Study Buddies, doing tutoring and academic mentoring.

Another popular program is Mission:Possible, a service-immersion program that sends students during spring break across the country for a week of community service and mission to such cities as Portland, Ore., Denver, Colo., Tacoma, Wash., and  San Francisco, Calif.

Student leaders and a faculty member run Mission:Possible. The small group setting supports bonding, and trips introduce the four pillars of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps—simplicity, spirituality, service and community.

CCASL also offers an Spring Break Spokane, in which students serve in the local area, reaching out to those in their backyard to address issues of this community.

Todd said  student slots for Mission:Possible filled up within four hours this past year.

Many students do Mission: Possible three or four times, he said. Based on feedback, CASSL finds that the most impact is from immersion trips.

For example, the pre-orientation Reality Camp draws 40 incoming freshman to campus early for a night and day of service at the House of Charity, a night on campus, one in the woods and the last night on campus, so they are immersed in Spokane and come to know their neighbors, he said.

Reality Camp also emphasizes the Jesuit pillars.

A student who participated in the Way of the Heart retreat and Special Olympics wanted to connect students year round  with people with developmental disablities.  The student started CCASL's program, Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation, which has more than 50  volunteers. It does sports and puts on plays to raise funds for local people with developmental disabilities. It wants students and local people of diverse backgrounds, abilities and ages to feel welcome, respected and loved.

CCASL supports social justice  educational programs through Just Desserts, a dessert with a forum and speakers discussing current justice issues such as human trafficking. Students learn ways to help homeless or hungry people, or fight AIDS through local organizations.

Sima Thorpe

Todd Dunfield and Sima Thorpe

“Service requires people. Students and staff lead the programs, working with 150 community partners and  volunteers. CCASL is run 50 percent by grants, donations and fund raising, and the university underwrites the rest,” said Sima, who is fulfilled by sharing her commitment to social justice.

Growing up in a Middle-Eastern-American household, she experienced and learned about injustice at an early age. She learned from her parents, who were teachers, to work for justice.

My father, an Iranian immigrant, met and married my mother at the University of Oregon.  During the Iran-Iraq war, most of my family in Baghdad, Iraq, became refugees and moved into our home in Eugene,” said Sima.

She went to the University of Oregon because it had one of the first service learning programs.  Throughout college she worked with homeless, hungry and poor people, going into their homes. After graduating in 1985, she taught poor and low-income children, including at the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation.  She  was an advocacy paralegal from 1988 to 1994. 

Todd came to Gonzaga from Texas, seeking a school with a culture driven by social justice and service.

Going often to daily Mass with his family, he learned about care of the poor.  He majored in history with plans to teach, but went on to earn a master's degree in student affairs in 2004 at Seattle University before returning to Spokane to work at CCASL.

For information, call 313-6824.


Copyright © October 2011 - The Fig Tree