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One goal for every person, family or business living or operating in a community should be to make that community a better place to live.
Various ways exist to accomplish that goal. Some are small and require little effort. Some are large and ambitious. All are important.
A pilot program at Northern Illinois University will certainly make DeKalb County a better place to live by offering students tuition waivers in exchange for community service.
The Huskie Service Scholars program provides low-income and first-generation students a $1,132 tuition waiver. To receive the waiver, a student must perform 300 hours of community service. Groups of three freshmen or first-year transfer students are paired with a mentor who has been on campus for at least one year.
The program has joined with six campus organizations that already have mentor programs in place: the Asian American Center, the Center for Black Studies, CHANCE, the Latino Resource Center, the Office of Pre-Collegiate Programs and Student Support Services.
“We’re looking for it to instill some engagement in the students and to receive some support, as well,” said Stormie Surles, a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which is launching the Huskie Service Scholars program. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Indeed it is.
There are a number of benefits to this program, all of which improve our community.
The students participating receive much-needed tuition assistance while becoming more acclimated to the community. By being placed in groups of four, these students are introduced to more people on campus, making the transition to life in DeKalb that much easier. Doing the community service work instills a sense of pride and teaches students at an impressionable age the importance of community service.
“We’re really looking to serve low-income and first-generation students and become a support system for those students,” said Julia Spears, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning.
The community service work – whether it’s volunteering time at a local social service agency or picking up trash from the side of the road – helps the community.
NIU has enough money this year to support six teams of four. Spears hopes a federal grant next year will assist the program.
If you are a student interested in the program or a community member with service opportunities, call Spears at 815-753-8152 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.