by Hannelore Sudermann | © Washington State University
See the world. Make a difference.
Today’s graduates are looking for more than a job.
Scott Jones is taking some time off.
After five grueling years in WSU’s architecture program, he finished his degree last May and decided to travel the world, hang out, and just plain take a break. The 23-year old from Vancouver isn’t ready to settle into his lifelong plans.
One morning in January, Jones wakes up in a house full of roommates. It’s a small, slightly shabby rental edging the glassy waters of Lake Samish. The driveway is cluttered with cars, including one with its hood open. Inside, two roommates are already in their ski pants and gulping coffee before heading off for Mount Baker. Another is just waking up on the couch. Jones, who has tugged a cap over his unruly hair, is standing in the middle of it all with a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
He and his friends ski. They motor around on the lake. They jump on the trampoline in the yard. They do a little construction work for cash. And, as Jones had planned, they hang out.
The thing is, Jones, who wanted a year off, is not so much the slacker that he might seem. He has designed a year that he knows will be one of the most demanding and exciting in his life. By the time this story runs, he will be on his third trip to Africa, where he’s helping a non-profit organization build rural health clinics and orphanages.
When he’s stateside, he’s on his computer creating plans for Kenya. He has also been asked by another non-profit to work on a project in Rwanda. And he’s continuously honing a concept to build chimneys for Kenyan cookfires that would cut down on eye infections and respiratory illnesses caused by smoke. His life, he says, is near perfect. “I get to ski or hike in the day and come home and work at night.”
Just two days after graduation last year Jones left on his first Africa trip, traveling with Agape Partners International, a non-profit Christian organization. Through a network of pastors in Kenya, the group channels resources into communities to build and support orphanages and medical clinics. The volunteer job is a good fit for Jones, who in his last year at WSU started looking into designing low-income residential housing. “It’s interesting how the role of the architect is geared toward the upper class,” he says. But if you flip that, and work with lower-income clients, the design experience can be “a lot more interesting and dynamic and rewarding,” he says.
One of his professors, Bashir Kazimee, had been contacted by Agape for help with a medical clinic in Kenya. Seeing a chance to combine his interests in designing affordable architecture and getting a global perspective, Jones jumped in. The group wanted a modular design that could be repeated in other places. The young architect was able to parlay the project into a relationship that not only led to trips to Africa (for which he paid his own way), but to a way to satisfy his desire to help others.
Jones has visited a boys’ orphanage near Nairobi, toured large-scale construction projects in Africa, and spent time in remote communities with thatch-roofed homes. He also learned to use a machete and braid bark, saw a black mamba, came down with malaria, and helped a village make its cook fires healthier.
Jones is just one of many recent Washington State graduates who are taking time after college to find ways to see the world and make a positive difference. Vivvi Pierce (’07) is teaching English in Hungary. Jeremiah Campbell (‘05, M Ed. ‘08) is headed this summer to Bolivia to work in a school and residence for children of women in prison. And Cody Moore (’07) is working in Spokane to help keep elderly and disabled people in their homes.
This desire to volunteer often comes with students when they arrive in Pullman, says Melanie Brown, head of WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement. Today the notion of community service is fostered in elementary and high schools. Sometimes it’s even a high school graduation requirement, says Brown. More and more students come to Pullman with that experience and an expectation of finding ways to be involved in their community. Brown recalls being blown away by one freshman who came in with a community service portfolio: “It was a big binder filled with photos.”
The center got its start in the early 1990s, when the University formed a task force to respond to the faculty’s desire to incorporate community-based learning into the undergraduate curriculum. Through academic courses, students could find work and internships in the community that would contribute to their studies and interests. The notion became the Community Service Learning Center.
Over the years, the focus of the center has evolved from academic programming to a service fostering students’ exploration of themselves in their society. Just recently it became the Center for Civic Engagement. “It meant that we started to serve the needs related to community involvement,” says Brown.The center works with living groups, classes, and individuals with an interest in community service, as well as students who have conduct problems for which they have court-ordered community service. “There are people who really want to do it, and students who really don’t,” she says. But sometimes even for those who don’t it “clicks,” she says. Recently Brown placed a young man ordered to do community service with a nursing home. He bonded with an older woman with whom he was paired, and celebrated the first time he could help her leave her room and join the other residents for a meal.
On the other hand, there are students who find their way into the center on their own and use it as a resource for what they want to do while in school. Brown points to Edison Kent, the ASWSU director of philanthropy and community service, and Malia Suzui, a senior majoring in public relations who recently organized a campus American Red Cross club.
Suzui got a taste for community service as a high school student in Walla Walla. As a freshman, she jumped at the chance for a work-study with the Pullman Red Cross office. “It was the most awesome opportunity,” she says. “I get to do so many cool things.” Her job is mainly clerical, but she was delighted to be asked to help write press releases and organize projects. Last fall, Suzui researched forming a campus chapter for the Red Cross. “There are a few hoops to jump through,” she says. The group had to write a constitution, learn the rules of Student Involvement, and find a faculty advisor. Now there are 10 members, most of whom have been health and safety certified and can perform CPR and basic first aid. This is something the students do not for themselves, but for the community around them, says Suzui. “You never know when an emergency is going to present itself.”
Just days after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, Suzui led the “Cougs for Haiti” campaign to collect donations for Red Cross relief efforts. “We wanted to facilitate a way for students to donate easily, without having to seek something out,” she says. “People are so generous and sweet.” Students who donated $10 or more received a shirt promoting the campaign. “Every college student loves a t-shirt,” says Suzui. Besides donating, when the students wear the shirts, they continue to promote awareness of the needs in Haiti. In the first few days of the campaign, the club collected more than $2,500.
While her work with the Red Cross and forming a campus club has been rewarding, it has also convinced Suzui that after graduation and some time learning public relations with an agency, she would ultimately like to work for a non-profit. “It’s the people,” she says. “People who work at places like that are just so dedicated to their jobs.”
This ethic of involvement stays with the student after he or she leaves WSU, says Brown. A recent WSU Research and Assessment office survey of the 2005-2006 graduating class drew more than 1,000 responses. Seventy-one percent said they spent time volunteering or working in a community action program. On average, most of the respondents spent between one and three hours a month doing volunteer service. The largest sector was religious activities (28 percent). It was closely followed by conservation activities (23 percent) and tutoring and teaching (23 percent).
“It’s not just about what they do here,” says Brown. “It’s about developing an ethic of service and habits.. . Really, it’s about citizenship in the long run.”
That first visit to Kenya didn’t unfold as Jones and his companions had hoped. But that’s how it can be sometimes in East Africa. It was frustrating, says Jones. “Trying to plan was really a stretch. And I didn’t get to do a number of things I had wanted to.” Each day the group would have to start from scratch—decide where to go and how to get there.
Jones, who met his traveling companions for the first time at the airport that May, was a great addition to the team, says Darby Kruger, chief operating officer of API. “He’s very wash and wear, even-keeled,” says Kruger. While the group had pastors and outreach coordinators, no one had the architecture and engineering skills Jones could bring.
When they could they visited sites in Nairobi and out in the countryside, checking out permit offices and touring construction projects. Jones looked at the basics like getting electricity and water, seeing architects at work. He saw things that interested him and things that alarmed him. “We went to a school under construction for about 250 kids,” he says. “They tried to make a new kind of brick, a tongue and groove brick with the idea that you wouldn’t have to use any mortar. But you could go to a wall and push it out five inches.”
For Jones, the uncertainty of the schedule left a few days open and the opportunity to visit Otatai, a very small village at the edge of a rainforest and near the Ugandan border. With no electricity and limited roads, it was an experience that “feels most African,” Scott says. The roads weren’t passable by car, so Jones and Kruger went in on dirt bikes.
Jones had heard of villages like this. They had several major health concerns tied to the lack of clean drinking water and to smoke inhalation. The villagers were living in the traditional mud daub buildings with thatched roofs. Jones was impressed by the quality and durability of these hand-built structures, but noted immediately that they didn’t have proper ventilation. Fires inside the huts are used for heat and cooking. The smoke would rise to the thick thatched roof and slowly filter out. Since the roofs held in so much smoke, the people had eye irritations and respiratory problems. Women were dying in their 30s and children regularly had upper respiratory infections. Everyone had red eyes.
“For me it was intolerable after about three or four minutes,” says Jones. “Some of them were inhaling smoke four to six hours a day.”
Jones was excited to do something the first day. He looked around and talked with people in the village. Then he started sketching, thinking about what western techniques might solve these problems. After learning he couldn’t compromise the roof, he started thinking about going through the wall. “I thought there’s got to be a really simple solution,” he says. “I wanted to work with the people to come up with the design.
The second day he looked around for materials like “bark, branches, leaves, and ropes.” The villagers spoke English and, once they understood that he wasn’t interested in using purchased building materials, helped him scavenge. “We started getting materials together, we started playing around,” he says, pulling out the small black leather sketchbook where he had been keeping notes and questions from site visits on the rest of the trip. Jones doodled out his ideas for channeling the smoke out of the huts. He noted the roofs were made of grass layered four inches thick, and that they are replaced every five to six years. Then he sketched a side view of a wall with the cook fire next to it and drew in a type of range hood that would direct the smoke out through a hole high up in the wall. As he worked, he showed his drawings to the villagers around him.
They went looking for materials that could work. “People would come up and say, ‘I know how to work with these materials. I know how to do this. There’s a better way.’ And then they’d show me,” he says. Then they found a woman in the village willing to let him build a version of the hood in her home.
They tied and wove a frame together and then covered it with mud to make a non-porous surface that would catch and direct the smoke. “We had the kids helping us making rope and showing how to make the mud, which has a certain clay content and a certain water content,” he says.
“We got everything together and built it and then got everyone together and lit the fire,” he says. “It worked.”
Jones carried this experience in his mind long after leaving Africa, honing and rethinking the construction. Then on his return trip last August, he went back to Otatai to see how the original chimney was faring. “I had to beg and bargain with both my family and the organization to let me stay on and go out and see the village,” he says.
One of his first stops was the home of the first chimney. “It had all but fallen down, just because we hadn’t built it very well,” he says. “But it was still getting the smoke out.” The woman said it was an improvement. The air was cleaner, she and her children were suffering less, and they were still getting the heat from the fire.
That night Jones sat down with the respected men in the community and showed them his new drawings and talked about what he wanted to do. One of the leaders said he wanted a chimney in his home. Once he announced that, others started asking for one, too. With two weeks to work in the village, Jones helped a team of men organize to go into homes and build the chimneys.
“It was great to take my ideas and take their abilities and put them together,” he says. Through the process, the villagers learned they could easily improve their health by channeling the smoke. Jones left satisfied that the men he worked with would build more chimneys and spread their knowledge throughout the community.
“It’s in their hands now,” he says. “They have ownership. It’s all just local, free, sustainable materials and they have the confidence and knowledge to do it.”
Now Jones is applying to graduate school, doing local design work to raise money, and continuing to work on projects in Africa. A lot of his friends have moved to Seattle. They’re working full-time jobs, paying rent, and getting married. “For me, I just don’t see that right now,” he says. There’s still work to do overseas. “Every time I look at the pictures, every time I talk with someone who has been there, I just want to go back.
Alison Foliart had more than a decade in a corporate career. She worked her way up to a job as a fuel supply manager and pricing specialist at a petroleum company.
But last year she stepped off that track for a job helping women and children out of dire straits—drug addictions and unhealthy environments. She became director of Perinatal Treatment Services, a Seattle-based non-profit for drug and alcohol-dependent women who are pregnant or mothers to young children.
Foliart, ‘08, who finished her Pullman studies at WSU in 1995, returned to college recently to complete her degree through the Distance Degree Program. She first became involved with the treatment facility when a friend asked her to serve on the advisory board. “I didn’t know the magic that happened here until I joined,” she says. The organization started as a National Institute of Drug Abuse demonstration project to provide recovery services to pregnant women with the goal of healthier newborns and patients willing to remain longer in drug and alcohol treatment. The project became a private organization in 1994 and today serves women from all over Washington state.
It’s one of very few facilities in Washington that allows children to live with their mothers while they are in treatment. The program helps mothers learn how to be better parents and provides children with a nurturing, safe, and supportive environment. The 180-day program gives women a longer runway of abstinence so that they can ideally take off into a safe, sober, and healthy life, says Foliart.
Last year, the organization was left without a director and a search wasn’t turning up great candidates. That’s when Foliart decided to offer herself. “I wasn’t really looking for a job,” she says. But her knowledge of the program, her managerial skills, and her ability to network on behalf of the program all counted in her favor.
Foliart now oversees the organization, making it possible for the staff of 35 to do their jobs caring for, counseling, and teaching the 30-some clients and their children who are there. On the day we meet, Foliart has done her a.m. tour of the parking lot for litter and is dealing with boiler issues and thinking about marketing an out-patient program. Later she will check on workers who are painting and installing new floors in some of the residents’ rooms. On the chair just inside her office door, a duckie-themed set of toddler pajamas rests atop a plastic sack of donated clothes.
Besides having an alternative to jail, the clients can maintain and build bonds with their babies. It also provides children with a nurturing start to life, says Foliart as we visit the room where clients leave their babies while they’re in treatment. A woman walks into the light-filled room at the front of the facility to find her little girl is lying on the mat-covered floor tugging at her socks and toying with a book. Smiling, she lifts up the baby and snuggles into her. Foliart smiles, too: “It’s mommies and babies, what’s better than that?”
We head into the dormitory and immediately run into another client. “Hi Allie, I’m on my 101st day,” a young woman beams. Another, older woman walked by a few minutes later and says, “Hey Allie, I’m in Phase 2.” “Oh, good for you,” Foliart says putting her hand on the woman’s shoulder. As we tour the next floor, a woman with tears in her eyes rushes by. “You’re here as an employee, but you can’t help caring about the people who are here,” says Foliart. Sometimes it can be heartbreaking, especially when children are removed from a mother.
As we stop in the parking lot to wrap up the tour, the woman who had been crying in the hallway darts out to greet her children, who arrive with a children’s agency worker. She comes up to Foliart with a little boy and a little girl with an armful of Barbies in tow. She explains that they were able have a visitation. Foliart bends down to greet the toddlers and then urges the woman to go make the most of her time with her kids.
“This was more than a career change,” says Foliart, with a smile. “It was a life change.
Cody Moore spent the spring in the Hillyard neighborhood of Spokane looking for houses and homeowners in need of help.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA worker a few years ago, the 2007 political science major was placed with Rebuilding Together Spokane, a non-profit organization that focuses on low-income and disabled homeowners and neighborhoods in need of revitalization. His job is to find people in need and connect them with the materials and manpower they require to make their homes more habitable.
The Hillyard community, in the northeast of the city, is an older neighborhood that grew up around railroad yards in the late 1800s. Throughout the 20th century and even up to today it has been home for newer immigrants and has long been one of the poorer areas of the city.
Hillyard and its residents are excellent candidates for the non-profit’s services, says Moore. Many of the residents do own their own homes, he says. “But often they are a few steps away from not being able to keep it, or keep it up.”
As the community coordinator for Rebuilding Together, Moore’s job is to select homes and homeowners eligible for support. “We look at income level, and then sit down in the person’s home to interview them with their family,” says Moore. “We get to know them and then look at the project.”
Then he finds sponsors to donate materials and volunteers, often from churches, non-profits, and schools, who are willing to dedicate a day to working for someone else. Moore and his teams of volunteers have done everything from painting houses, hanging cabinets, and roofing to landscaping and installing new sewer lines. “Our goal is to keep the homeowners warm and safe and happy and independent in their home,” he says. Last year, the group completed nine projects valued at $95,000.
On April 24, 2010, which was National Rebuilding Day, Moore and a team of more than 400 local volunteers went to work in Hillyard on 10 different projects. They painted, landscaped, and built a garden at the Northeast Youth Center and put up fencing, landscaped, and built a shed at a transition home for formerly homeless veterans.
They also completed seven projects at private residences, making five of them handicap accessible, replacing one roof, and painting six of them.
With the help of the volunteers and donors including Albertsons, First Presbyterian Church, Providence Health and Services, and Cricket Communications, Rebuilding Togeter was able to obtain or pay for all the equipment and supplies. Moore estimates the value of the work they completed to be around $100,000.
He is in his second year of his second term with AmeriCorps. The job suits him, says Moore, since he ran a painting company in college and already had some property improvement work in his résumé. While the position isn’t permanent, the experience is providing him with more responsibility and opportunities than he would have found in a regular job straight out of school.
Mainly, he says, it’s satisfying work to help improve people’s quality of life—to ensure they have a safe and healthy home.
“Housing is such a tangible issue,” says Moore. “The money I’m making now is not the best, but the rewards of making such a change in people’s lives is great.
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