In the debut of Carlene Majorino’s community service column, she visits the Norris Square Neighborhood Project.
The purpose of these activities is to enrich experiences with social good and interaction – while giving students an opportunity to do more in college than just get the degree necessary for success.
Students’ involvement in community service groups can provide an entire experience, instead of just a degree.
But for people like Zerbo Lara Omar, this experience won’t be easy to achieve. First, he has to learn English.
Omar is part of Temple’s Intensive English Learning Program, which consists of six 14-week levels of a crash-course for non-native speakers. The 23-year-old from Burkina Faso, West Africa is on Level 4 of the program. Omar hopes to begin business courses after he completes the IELP program.
“In my country, I was studying business, and then I started at university,” Omar said. “And then my friend [who] had come to Temple six months before me said it had a good program.”
One track of the IELP program that allows international students to gain social experience is a connection with several local organizations in need of volunteers.
In the six months he’s attended Temple, Omar has served about four different organizations throughout the city, from community centers to nursing homes. Where he’s from, he said, community service isn’t so popular.
“I was very interested in volunteering when I was in my country,” Omar said, “but there were few opportunities.”
Omar, like other students in his volunteering track, gets an assignment from IELP every Wednesday and reserves those mornings to volunteer. Those students travel together to their destination and collaborate on work – when there are students in that track.
“Every seven weeks, you choose a track,” Omar said. “I was alone for 14 weeks.”
One of the organizations assigned to Omar is the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, a community center located near the intersection of Front and Susquehanna streets. NSNP runs programs that range from after-school childcare to community beautification and even a summer camp.
“[Norris Square] is not a safe area,” Omar said, “so this gives children and teenagers something to do so they won’t be bored.”
Omar volunteers at NSNP on Wednesday mornings. NSNP uses the resources of the neighborhood and many volunteers to keep local children out of trouble. The nonprofit has taken its resources a step further with six themed gardens, each representing a different culture, intended to tranquilize the community of Norris Square.
Omar said he helps with the upkeep of these gardens since the children are still in school.
At the nursing home where he volunteers in Center City, Omar was surprised by the enthusiasm of the residents toward volunteers.
“They feel alone and want somebody to talk with,” Omar said. “It’s very different [in Burkina Faso].”
Omar’s goal is to open a business in his country after obtaining a degree in business from Temple. In the meantime, he will continue to gain social skills through community service.
“When I give help, I’m happy,” Omar said. “And now, if I need help one day, someone might help me.”
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.