Center for Service Learning
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JEP: Philosophy

Since 1972, the JEP Center for Service Learning has been thinking about the most effective ways of linking the campus to the community. In the process, we have had to think a great deal about


Definitions of Community

What are the qualities of community that provide a context for our work? We have seen many campuses try to link with others off campus without any clear definition of who those others are. We believe such loose definitions contribute to the idea that "community" simply means "not campus".

We strive for something more significant. In 1972, we picked some fairly arbitrary geographic "borders" for our "community". By in large, we continue to honor those borders and work closely with our neighbors within that defined community. This allows us to develop friendly relations and have some sense of the added value of our contribution to the community.

Continuity and Commitment - Our community partners, those that serve as hosts to our students and make use of their services, are schools, agencies and health care providers that we have made a long term commitment to. In exchange for their promise to provide high quality over-sight, we promise to provide a significant number of students semester after semester. Many of our partners have been with us for more than 25 years.

Collaboration - We believe in the old adage, "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". With our community partners and a growing number of on-campus partners, we seek opportunities to join forces to pilot new programs, seek joint funding, share training agendas and problem solving strategies, and to work together whenever possible.

The Nature of Organizations

While much of the world is rushing blindly toward corporate models of organization, we believe that for offices that are in the business of serving people, other, more people-oriented rather than product-oriented approaches may be more appropriate. Our rather unorthodox approaches have resulted in a highly dedicated staff, an excellent record of service, and a highly efficient organization.

Centrality of People - We believe that people come first and that all of our "customers" - students, faculty, agency leaders, school administrators, teachers, and community residents - are all entitled to respect and prompt action. We assume that students and staff members who are not performing adequately simply do not know enough or lack the appropriate tools. Our response to most problems is not to find out who is "wrong" but to re-think procedures or expand training. We believe that education and diplomacy respects the dignity of others while commands and intimidation destroy self esteem.

Our staff exemplifies this belief. Four staff members(All About JEP > Staffing > Professional Staff) have worked together for over 20 years. Our newest hire joined JEP in 1997. We function as a team, building on our respective assets and compensating for our relative deficits. The result is a highly efficient staff that knows how to get the job done with little regard for formal hierarchies, titles, or reporting lines.

Successive Approximations - Our experience is that nothing works right the first time around and that everything can be made better with practice. Our staff periodically have "walk throughs" in which we walk through a procedure or even a whole semester, debriefing our experiences, examining problem areas, determining how changes might be made to improve performance. The whole professional staff takes part and lends their unique perspective to the process. We continue to do this year after year with the assumption that things can always be better.

Shepherding Resources - We take a certain amount of pride in being cheap. We think that a program serving a poor community has a moral obligation to model frugality and to communicate to students involved in the program that concern and intellectual engagement can result in contributions that greatly outweigh the financial investment.

Understanding the Context of our Work - We work in two very different worlds; the world of the academy and the world of the urban poor. We make every effort to tailor our work to the reality of those two worlds and find ways that students can learn in the community while serving community residents in ways which honor the value system of the two cultures.

The Qualities of Leadership

All too often, society's view of leadership comes from the military or the corporate world. The "leader" is one who has the answers and the vision and lets everyone know what needs to be done and how things should be done. At the JEP Center for Service Learning, we take a different view of things.

Servant Leadership - We support the notion that the qualities of leadership most needed now are the qualities of listening to others, supporting collaborative work, getting the best out of every member of a group and making things happen with little sense of ego and self gratification. We support this amongst our staff members and we support it amongst our students. We have even created a new award, the Henry M. Lee Award, to help lend credence to the idea that one can lead without being the boss.

Giving Ownership to Youth - Our success over the years is directly attributable to our "Program Assistants" (PAs), student staff members that do most of the front line work of our project. We "give" our PAs entire departments to work with and oversee, providing them assistance on an as-needed basis. We continue to be amazed at the work these students do and the creative approaches they use to solve problems and serve their students.