Community engagement leaders from Zaman International attended a recent conference on community-based learning hosted by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, sharing Zaman’s approach to infusing volunteer initiatives with educational components as well as learning techniques for teaching Zaman stakeholders about the organization’s mission.
Director of Community Engagement Monica Boomer and Volunteer Coordinator Abigail DeMars attended the three-day conference, which was held in South Bend, Ind., for the university’s faculty and community partners. Both Notre Dame alumnae, Boomer and DeMars attended plenary and small group sessions on community-based learning courses, community-based research, and service opportunities for students and faculty. They also engaged in networking to raise the visibility of Zaman outside of Michigan.
The 30-year-old Center for Social Concerns provides programs that help students, faculty, staff, and alumni think critically about complex social realities and about their responsibilities in facing them. Boomer said the center’s Catholic social tradition emphasizes eradicating poverty and injustice, which is fully aligned with Zaman’s mission to break the cycle of poverty. The conference’s keynote address brought together South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former university president Rev. Edward A. Malloy, and Steve Camilleri, executive director of South Bend’s Center for the Homeless, to discuss how collaboration between government, nonprofits and universities can address homelessness – a major programmatic goal for Zaman.
DeMars said the conference furnished excellent advice on building relationships with university students and faculty, which is critical to building Zaman’s volunteer corps.
“Zaman has historically drawn a great deal of its volunteers from schools and universities where students need service hours for class projects, civic or sacramental preparation, honor society membership, or any number of other reasons,” DeMars said. “These volunteers are looking for ‘value-added’ service opportunities that enhance their understanding of societal problems and solutions in addition to providing a benefit to Zaman and its clients. Zaman believes all of its community-based activities, from cooking classes to food drives, can educate participants about poverty in Metro Detroit and we are constantly pursuing best practices for doing that.”
DeMars said Zaman was particularly interested in hearing about how professors make connections within structured classroom settings between the academic content and the “real-world.”
“Just hearing about something may not help you retain it,” DeMars said. “A number of our longtime volunteers have gotten their children involved in direct service because they realized they could not simply tell their children about poverty – they had to see it themselves. We realize that many of our volunteer groups may not have that opportunity for immersion, so we are looking for ways to build that empathy and understanding through reflection exercises and by sharing client stories.”