Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Service learning brings Comenius Scholars to Lansing

Calvin students participate in fresh approach to lobbying legislators 

LANSING, MICHIGAN (April 28, 2009)--Two Calvin students descended on the state capitol on Tuesday as part of a delegation with ACCESS of West Michigan, a faith-based collaborative that coordinates service, education, and advocacy efforts on behalf of the area’s poor and needy.

Senior Corrie Krol (Jenison) and sophomore Jin-Ha Kim (South Korea), both interns with ACCESS, participated in a poverty simulation workshop with legislators in Lansing.

The event, co-sponsored by Senators Mark Jansen (R-Gaines Twp) and Bill Hardiman (R-Kent County), turned the tables for a while as participants assumed the financial burdens--and the many accompanying pitfalls and hardships--of life below the poverty line.

Both Krol and Kim had observed and partaken in workshops previously, but this marked their first time assuming the roles of individuals living in poverty.

Krol played the role of Nancy Nuttin, a single mother of three working part-time at a hospital for minimum wage. Kim acted as her son, Ned, a precocious nine-year-old. 

“Oh man,” commented Krol afterwards, reflecting on her participation in the workshop. “I had seen how frustrated everyone gets (when they participate in the simulation) and I didn’t want to do it.” 

Krol found herself held up at gunpoint, harassed by debt collectors, and appealing to child protective services--Kim had been taken into custody when left home unattended-- over the course of the workshop. Toward the end of the hour-long simulation, her frustration mounted.

“It was really difficult,” she said.

Each simulation scenario was unique. 

Senator Jansen played the role of a four-year-old child living in a family impoverished as a result of mass lay-offs in their community. His family was eventually evicted from their home.

Another Lansing diplomat, Amanda Comment, endured the simulation as an eighty-five-year-old woman relying on social security checks and Medicare.

Bob Kefgen, Chief of Staff for Representative Dudley Spade (D-Lenawee), participated as a forty-three year old father seeking employment after lo

sing his job to downsizing. He managed to find work as a custodian for $200 a week. His children in the simulation also found work.

In the end, however, it didn’t help much. “We still lost the house,” he explained.

Krol and Kim have worked with ACCESS of West Michigan as participants in the Comenius Scholarship program at Calvin, a McGregor Foundation-funded grant that places students in a variety of service settings in the community.

“I’ve been doing some case management work in food pantries,” Krol said. “Getting out and talking with people living in poverty and helping them out has been a great experience.”

Krol will graduate from Calvin this spring. Toward the end of the summer, she will join Mennonite Central Committee to do service work for a year in Bolivia.

Kim has likewise enjoyed his participation with ACCESS. “It’s very cool,” he said, smiling. An international student from South Korea, Kim is interested in doing development work in Asia.

They have been able to observe the complexity of poverty and the many manifestations of the experience. “Sometimes helping is just giving a hand so that (people in poverty) can get out of their situation,” observed Krol.

The event in Lansing concluded with some ACCESS representatives sharing stories of life in poverty. The aim was to put a face on the statistics and simulation scenarios with which legislators were confronted.

“"When you look in the mirror,” Gloria Dunbar, a single mother of two living on roughly $400 a month, told the group, “I hope that face becomes real--that face of poverty that you had to wear today."

With the continued efforts of ACCESS and the people who comprise the collaborative, that face is sure to become clearer and clearer.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

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