By Stephanie Tomlinson
Transformation. Truth. Community. Service. These are the four values at the heart of NNU’s mission to provide each student an education that “instills habits of heart, soul, mind and strength to enable [him or her] to become God’s creative and redemptive agent in the world.” As University Services Coordinator, Dr. Grant Zweigle (’93) connects NNU students with local community service providers. These partnerships empower students to explore how they can use their education to make a difference in our world.
In 2017, Zweigle was hired by Dr. Fred Fullerton, executive director in the Office of University Mission and Ministry, to intentionally strengthen the service component of the university mission and align it with NNU’s educational objectives. As Zweigle quickly learned, different groups across campus were already doing some incredible work to serve the community. With the vital support of Fullerton, Zweigle started building upon the existing connections as he helped students transition from simply volunteering their time to recognizing the role that serving our community has in a transformative education.
One of the places in which service was already occurring on campus was in the Cornerstone course—a class required for all first-year students. NNU’s Cornerstone Program challenges students to understand, reflect on and begin to apply the university values through the completion of a class project that in some way positively impacts the local community.
Zweigle began working with this program to determine how to strengthen the service aspect of the course so that learning would be amplified further. Zweigle approached this task from what he describes as an “assets-based” perspective.
Zweigle explains, “We have a tremendous number of great people, agencies, and initiatives in the Boise Valley that are directly addressing needs in our community. NNU has incredible resources in our students, staff and faculty. By putting our focus on supporting these assets that already exist, NNU is uniquely positioned to serve as a connector between assets and resources so that we can support and strengthen those who are already doing amazing things—which, in turn, strengthens the community as a whole.”
Utilizing this approach, Zweigle identified 12 different community organizations that are providing services addressing needs in the Boise Valley. He then coordinated with each, partnering them with one of the 12 Cornerstone classes.
Each class works to get to know their partner organization, understand the community population they serve and then develop a class project that supports the work their partner is already doing. Projects vary from class to class, depending upon the need of the partners. Projects have included such things as holding a coat drive, conducting research for grants, completing repairs to facilities and mentoring elementary children. At the end of the semester, the classes hold an exhibition to share about their project and what they have learned through the process.
Over the past two years, these classes have partnered with a variety of different organizations that provide support for local students and/or families dealing with food scarcity, homelessness, single parenting and immigration—among other issues. NNU’s partners have included Because International, the Boise Rescue Mission, Glocal Community Partners through Cole Community Church, Grace Episcopal Church, the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, The House Next Door, Lighthouse Rescue Mission, The Mentoring Network, Nampa Family Justice Center, Nampa Care House Partnerships, the Nampa School District, and The Salvation Army.
The Nampa School District (NSD) has been a key partner with several classes each year, working in different capacities with Family Community Resource Centers based in three elementary schools; the After-School Youth Hub, which provides support for homeless high school students in the district; and the Migrant Education Program, which assists students who are from local migrant families.
“NSD is at the front line of so many social issues that impact our community. When NNU can support these programs, our entire community is strengthened because they are able to do even more of the valuable work they are already set up to do,” Zwiegle said.
These partnerships provide a multitude of benefits to the partners as well as to NNU students. For the partners, the class projects provide much needed resources and support for their programs. Additionally, what starts as a class project can frequently translate into long-term investment by the students or faculty who have come to understand and commit to the causes represented by the different partners.
Maribel Ramos is the Family Community Resource & Engagement Coordinator at the Nampa School District and has worked with Cornerstone classes for the past two years. “The students from NNU provide our students an adult who cares, a young adult who is interested in hearing what they have to say, and that in itself can and does turn their day around,” Ramos said. “By giving them mentors who are in college, we hope to give these kids a pathway to college as well, which will in turn strengthen our community.”
But it isn’t only the partners who benefit. NNU students gain a great deal as well. By working with these partner organizations, students have the opportunity to develop a new lens through which to see the world.
“As students serve their community, an issue such as immigration or homelessness is no longer just an abstract, politicized issue,” Zweigle said. “It now has a face. It takes on a humanness as they see how these issues play out in real families and students who are much like themselves or like others they know. When students can see our world in this light—and realize they have the power to do something to make a positive difference in our communities—true transformation takes place.”
Zweigle believes this is a good step in helping to fulfill NNU’s mission by providing students with educational opportunities based on transformation, truth, community and service. Our community is strengthened through these partnerships while NNU students are simultaneously empowered as they see what can happen when they intentionally apply these values as an integral part of their education.