In Waco and around the world, Baylor Arts & Sciences students use their varied passions and skills to serve others
By Julie Carlson
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Those immortal words of Charles Dickens are being taken to heart by Baylor Arts & Sciences students as they give thousands of hours of service to others each year.
Whether in Waco or around the world, each act of service is as varied as the student body itself, and the College of Arts & Sciences is working to encourage altruism with programs to guide students who feel led to give back.
Learning how to give
Future philanthropists not only need a heart for giving, but they often require instruction in the best ways to use resources to help others. That’s the philosophy behind Baylor’s newest service opportunity –– a semester-long course titled “Philanthropy and the Public Good.”
The course, known as the Philanthropy Lab, has been offered since fall 2014 and is taught by Dr. Andy Hogue, formerly a lecturer in political science who is now in the Honors College. It introduces students to the world of nonprofit agencies in a concrete way and is open to all Baylor students.
In the class, students operate a “foundation board of directors” that provides grants of real money to Waco-area nonprofits. That funding –– $100,000 during the initial semester alone –– comes from the Once Upon a Time Foundation, a Fort Worth-based organization working to increase philanthropy education at U.S. universities.
Students in the inaugural class were divided into five teams that looked at various community need areas as well as the nonprofits that service each area. Carissa Carlson, who graduated in May 2015 with a BA in international studies, served on the Human Services and Civil Rights team.
“The team ended up shaping my desire to work with legal aid, public policy or social justice organizations in the future,” Carlson said. “I learned how influential civil rights and human service organizations are to fighting poverty in Waco.”
Carlson’s team worked with 11 nonprofits, including Compassion Ministries, Lone Star Legal Aid and the Family Abuse Center. They learned more about the agencies through telephone interviews, site visits and meetings with directors.
Each team studies various aspects of the nonprofit organizations assigned to it, such as financials, governing board members and the group’s impact and reputation in Waco. Students learn how to determine which nonprofits have the greatest impact on their target population, then each team chooses one or two organizations for possible grant funding. Carlson’s team selected Compassion Ministries, which received an $18,500 grant. Seven other agencies also received funds during the inaugural semester.
Will Simmons, a neuroscience major who also graduated in May 2015, served on the Health, Wellness and Basic Human Needs team. He saw the philanthropy class as a great way to integrate his learning — particularly from his science courses –– into something beyond textbooks and exams.
“I was able to use knowledge about the human body and its development to inform my interactions with medical nonprofits in the Waco area, and I was able to understand why their projects were truly impactful to our community,” Simmons said.
Simmons also learned how to make better decisions about which nonprofits to engage with.
“There will never be a shortage of worthwhile organizations to which I can dedicate my time or donate my resources,” he said. “However, we as community members must be selective in our decisions. This is not because some organizations are more ‘worthy’ than others –– it is simply that each person can have greater impact when focused upon one or two recipients. We must each find organizations that align with our personal values and that are working effectively and passionately for their respective causes.”
A healthier community
While the philanthropy class provides a new opportunity to give back, students in Baylor’s medical humanities program have been using their interest in medicine for some time to aid community health.
Medical humanities has teamed up with Waco’s Family Health Center to provide students with real-world experience helping underserved populations in Waco. Laura White served as student volunteer coordinator at the Center while at Baylor. Since graduating in May 2014 she has worked as volunteer coordinator there for Community HealthCorps –– a branch of AmeriCorps, an organization established to provide opportunities for intensive service focused on improving community health.
“My role as volunteer coordinator is quite diverse and allows for a lot of flexibility,” White said. “When I started in this position, two volunteer programs existed at two separate clinics with approximately 40 volunteers between the two programs. Now after a year of work, over 200 student volunteers are involved within seven programs stationed in eight of the FHC clinics.”
White said Baylor student volunteers at the health clinics come from the pre-dental and pre-physician assistant groups on campus as well as from residents of Hallie Earle Hall, which houses the Science and Health Living Learning Community. Volunteers perform tasks ranging from making patient phone call reminders and filing patient charts to organizing clinic supplies, sanitizing exam rooms and other tasks that assist the clinic.
At the FHC, White implemented a survey project to better understand patients’ perception of access to care, and has worked to improve the aesthetics of several clinics by redecorating and reorganizing reception areas.
With the assistance of medical humanities and prehealth students from Baylor, White has also helped raise money for the FHC Friends Fund, funded children’s play areas at eight clinics and obtained a corporate donation of 30,000 books given out to all pediatric patients.
Tina Tran chose to minor in medical humanities at Baylor as a way to learn and discuss the human side of medicine. She was able to help fulfill that desire by volunteering at the Family Health Center, which eventually led to a position with Community HealthCorps.
“I serve as an eligibility screener at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Clinic. I help patients apply for three different medical assistance programs,” Tran said. She also serves as research coordinator for a health anxiety study and as a member of the Chronic Disease Management Team, which allows her to provides diabetic counseling to patients.
Tran worked with White to create the first Facebook page for the Family Health Center, and her experiences at the FHC have influenced her career plans after she finishes medical school.
“I plan to practice in a medically underserved region, and it would be an honor to come back to the Family Health Center after residency,” Tran said. “It is important for those who are entering the medical profession to participate in service because that’s what they are going to do for the rest of their lives.”
Telling a good story
Baylor public relations students have discovered that the communication and marketing skills they learn in class can be put to use helping nonprofit organizations achieve their goals.
Elizabeth Starr, a senior journalism, public relations and new media major, served an internship with Waco’s faith-based Talitha Koum Institute. It’s one of the few childcare facilities in the nation providing therapeutic early nurture for children and families experiencing the stress and challenges of overcoming multigenerational urban poverty. One of the highlights is the Nurture Center, which offers brain development and all-day care to young at-risk children.
Baylor public relations students are required to complete an internship as part of their studies, and instead of working with a PR agency or business, Starr chose Talitha Koum.
“I first learned about Talitha Koum from my social work friends who volunteered there,” Starr said. “I visited the Nurture Center and went on a tour, and after learning about how Talitha Koum is changing lives in one of Waco’s most deserving neighborhoods, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the children, staff and mission. I had so much excitement about what was being accomplished.”
During her internship, Starr used her PR skills to promote the Institute. She interviewed and photographed children and staff to produce feature stories and news releases, made promotional videos, gathered content and wrote posts on Talitha Koum’s social media sites.
“I have discovered that every day at a nonprofit is different –– there are always new PR challenges arising,” Starr said. “I’ve also found that the only way you can truly serve others is by discovering where your skills are, and then using them to the best of your ability. You never know who might be infinitely blessed by the gifts only you can offer.”
Calley Jones, who graduated in May 2015 with a BS in biology, was one of many Arts & Sciences students who chose more traditional means of service to others. She participated in Baylor Urban Missions, which partners with Waco organizations and churches to provide opportunities for students to engage in the local community through relationship building and service.
“I began serving with Urban Missions in the spring of 2012, and became the student leader for my Urban Missions team the following fall,” Jones said.
Jones led a team from Urban Missions that works with an established afterschool program to provide tutoring to children in grades K-12. She and her fellow Baylor students went two nights a week to East Waco to help kids with their homework assignments and strengthen their skills in math and reading.
While helping with academics, the Baylor team also focused on building relationships with the children and showing them God’s love by doing a weekly Bible study.
Jones also took part in Baylor Urban Missions’ annual trips to Eagle Pass, Texas. By partnering with local nonprofits and churches, participating students are able to serve the community while learning about and discussing topics such as rural poverty, early childhood literacy and immigration.
“We partnered with spring break programs for children to give them a structured, safe place to go for the week and to come learn reading skills from us,” Jones said. “Our other primary focus was helping out with a spring break program through Restorative Justice — which helps rehabilitate youth who have committed crimes.”
Andrew Bowles, who majored both in religion and corporate communications and graduated in May 2015, was led to serve others on another continent. Through Baylor Missions, he journeyed to Ghana in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
“I’ve always been attracted to global mission work,” Bowles said. “Having had grandparents who were career missionaries in Nigeria, I grew up hearing stories about life in Africa. For as long as I can remember, I’d always wanted to go to Africa to be a part of the work that is being done there, and to be in community with native Africans.”
Bowles said that Baylor’s emphasis on encouraging students to apply the knowledge they’ve learned from college courses in their service activities inspired him to use his communications skills in Ghana.
“I use my videography skills to tell a story,” he said. “When people think of Africa, they think of poverty, desperation, hopelessness, orphans and so much more. While the poverty levels are dramatic, the stories of the people of Ghana are so much more than that. They have a story of hope, a story of joy and a story of love. I want people who view my videos to see the reality of what is happening in Ghana.”
Both Jones and Bowles believe that Baylor teaches its students to think of mission work not as an occasional activity, but as a mindset they should carry with them throughout life.
“Baylor seeks to emphasize that service is not something passive that can be checked off of a to-do list,” Jones said. “Whether on a global trip or in a domestic setting, simply doing tasks for others falls short of accomplishing the overall goal. Instead, you truly have to invest in people and communities and help them accomplish their goals.”