Service-learning assistants (SLAs) assist service-learning faculty with community partner placements, student reflection, and other tasks. Faculty are invited to apply for SLAs each semester. Applications for Spring 2020 will be considered in early November so there is time to match SLAs with courses before winter break begins.
Being an SLA is More than a Job for Some Students
Service as a Gift: A Reflection from an SLA
Sometimes undergrads “give” more than their required 20 hours in service-learning courses. Sometimes they also give inspiration. The service-learning assistant (SLA) in Debby Gold’s Death and Dying class recently shared this personal reflection following her reading of reflections by students in the class.
She noted that as an SLA, she knows the flow of things now—the nuts and bolts—when partners need to be called, who should be emailed and who should be visited, how to assign seventy students to a site in under four hours.
“The only thing I did not really know how to do was visit at these sites—how to volunteer, how to give my time, how to show up as my students do, week in and week out,” she admits.
“This year, I wanted to change that, so I signed up to volunteer at Duke Hospice. For the past few decades, Duke Hospice has welcomed undergraduates from service-learning courses to volunteer with them. It is one of our most popular, but also specialized sites because volunteering at hospice means interacting with patients on hospice,” she says.
“Put more bluntly, it means confronting death in a very real, visceral way that volunteering at a nursing home does not always provide. It is the only site of its kind offered in Death and Dying, and as such, students who volunteer there often have one-of-a-kind experiences. Thus, when I read through their reflections, they stood out. I pictured them sitting vigil with a patient who was actively dying and had no family members to be with them. I heard the music they played at the bedside of patients who had lost all of their senses except their ability to listen to the tune of the flute or the stroke of the violin,” she explains.
“They have meaningful experiences and as I read their reflections, it caused me to reflect on my own life. It made me want to give of myself the way they have given of themselves, and so this year I am following their lead,” she says. “I decided to get oriented alongside them and we are serving together.
“Here are these students who, yes, are required to give twenty hours, but if you ask them if they feel like it is a burden, they would most likely say, ‘No.’ They bond with these people and they are changed for the better because of them. What they do not realize is that it is because of their ability to see service-learning as a gift and not a requirement, that I can too,” she says.
“Service-learning not only affects the students we work with, but everyone involved in the process,” she observes. “When all is said and done, that is what makes all of this worth it. You cannot help but be changed for the better.”