Lee Dukes is a Missouri State student taking Dr. Knapp’s Social Inequality class, offered through the Sociology program. Dr. Knapp’s class was given the opportunity to take a service-learning component class which gets to select from partners that relate to social inequality in the Springfield, MO area. Lee opted to complete his service-learning experience to the Rare Breed Youth Outreach Center (RBYOC). The Rare Breed serves homeless and at-risk youth in the Springfield area. The goal at the Rare Breed is to help keep kids safe, off the streets, and moving forward by helping them set goals, achieve stability, complete education, and gain employment.
Lee recently sat down with me and we discussed his experience at the outreach center. As a service-learning student, Lee finds himself performing a number of duties for the YOC including: giving youth referrals, performing street outreach, leading a life-skills group with the goal of promoting tolerance and acceptance, day-to-day operations, and performing a number of trainings on confidentiality and boundaries.
Working at the RBYOC introduced Lee to a number of different experiences. Helping a youth who was unaware of his potential (and reluctant to search for that potential) was one of the rewarding moments. By working on goals, and talking about why the youth felt unable to reach those goals, the youth found a new perspective. Now that youth is finishing up the GED, with the intention of going to Ozarks Technical Community College. Lee’s experience wasn’t short on challenging moments either. When a youth speaks about thoughts of suicide there are serious implications. Working with the authorities and the suicide hotlines while also trying to console a runaway straight from a treatment center, can be both physically and emotionally draining.
The educational outcomes are also of importance when considering how students benefit from service-learning. Lee found that his class work related well to his service-learning and vice-versa. It is easy to talk about social inequality in class, but to actually speak with those who experience inequality makes the content in the classroom real. Lee saw that no one looks for inequality and he found that the saying “everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps” is a myth. “What if you don’t have bootstraps” Lee challenges. The coursework taught in Dr. Knapp’s class discussed in detail the diverse populations that Lee encountered at the RBYOC and gave him ideas on how to approach his interactions with the youth. Lee learned to listen, observe, and be himself in those interactions.
These are just a couple of examples of the rewarding and challenging experiences Lee encountered. These types of experiences changed his outlook on what he should be majoring in. After completing his service-learning hours, he decided to change his major to Social Work. He feels that as college students we forget that we have privilege. By taking part in service-learning, he was able to be placed with a partner that helps those who do not share the same privilege. Lee feels every student should get a similar opportunity to enlarge their worldview and get engaged with those in the community who don’t have those “bootstraps” or are unaware of their potential.