All Commentary
Sunday, December 1, 1991

New G.O.A.L.s at Work in Michigan

Mike Fanning, the Foundation for Economic Education’s 1991 summer intern, continues his education as a political science major at Hillsdale College and as a G. O.A.L. student.

The spectacular red, gold, and yellow fireworks of autumn ignite in the trees of south-central Michigan. The sun’s early Saturday morning warmth highlights nature’s brilliance as 50 college students slowly haul them selves out of bed. In carloads they soon descend onto several acres of woods tucked away in the rural county seat of Hillsdale. There, the students congregate in a nature preserve donated to the residents of Hillsdale County by a local manufacturer, Simpson Industries, to be enjoyed as a flora and fauna learning resource as well as for recreation.

Yet weeds, garbage, and even erosion have taken their toll on the Simpson Outdoor Laboratory, and these young people have seized the initiative, determined to halt the preserve’s decline. Several months earlier, many of these students had cleaned up the trails and spread mulch along them,

On this particular Saturday in October, however, the students embark on a far more ambitious and complicated project. Wielding everything from tools and shovels donated by Hillsdale residents to a Ford backhoe, they move earth and heave stone all day. The town, impressed with the commotion, rallies the students in their monumental endeavor. The Marriott Corporation, TCBY, Subway, Domino’s, and Little Caesar’s Pizza outlets in town, for example, donate $300 worth of food.

In the preceding weeks, a handful of student leaders have spent countless hours publicizing the project, recruiting workers, raising funds, and rounding up the necessary tools and equipment. Their organization, energy, and persistence have finally paid off. By late afternoon, exhausted students review their amazing handiwork: a specially engineered anti-erosion water management system.

Several days later, veterans of the project are seen sporting T-shirts around campus. The shirts capture the spirit of hard work and teamwork forged on that hot, dirty, tiring day. The shirts are emblazoned in bright blue letters that say it all: “I survived the Simpson Project.”

It’s 3:00 on an unseasonably warm Monday afternoon in November. Nancy Pitzler, a junior from Bellevue, Washington, has just ambled out of her third and last class of the day. Although accustomed to the hectic life and hard work of college, she yearns for a catnap. The night before, Nancy burned several cans of midnight oil studying for a mid-term exam while simultaneously writing an essay for her honors seminar course—college cramming at its best.

Nancy summons her strength and marches down a gentle hill to her dorm room, enjoying the warm sunlight on her face. Once in her room, she does something uncommon among young people her age. Rather then sneaking in that short nap, she begins to tend to the various details of the volunteer project she founded during her sophomore year, the “Elderly Companionship Program.” The idea behind her program is to foster friendship, understanding, and cooperation between senior citizens and college students.

Using the recommendations of local church pastors, Nancy pairs college volunteers with the elderly in what could best be described as a “grandparent-grandchild” relationship. Students visit their adopted “grandparent” weekly to run errands, watch a baseball game, swap stories, share a meal, attend church, or simply take a stroll together. For their part, since most college students are far from home, they appreciate a little piece of “home” and a loyal friend close to college, especially when it comes to sharing a hot, home-cooked meal!

Nancy finds the program to be enriching for young and old alike—an observation that is a source of encouragement and motivation for her. Yet, while helping others, she too has experienced firsthand the personal rewards of voluntarism. In her words, “Being a volunteer, I can assure I’m part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

Nancy isn’t alone in exhibiting a “go-get-‘em” volunteer spirit. When he’s not dazzling crowds across the Midwest on wintry Saturday nights with his talents as point guard on the college varsity basketball team, and when he’s not devoting long, grueling hours to his studies in the library, Jason Andrews of Bothell, Washington, can be found calling the shots in the city-wide basketball league he launched for elementary school children.

Jason’s precocious interest in community service, however, doesn’t stop there. He also spends at least three hours a week with his “little brother,” Matthew. Among other things, Jason provides Matthew with a needed male role model. Yet Jason, like Nancy, is different from most college students his age in that his college is teaching him about voluntarism in the classroom. He is able to apply his new-found knowledge of philanthropy as a volunteer in the “classroom of life.”

At a time when many young people are viewed in a negative light, Nancy Pitzler, Jason Andrews, and the 50 volunteers of the Simpson Project are examplars to the contrary. In fact, these students are leaders-in-training of a new American generation reared with and committed to values practically extinct in many people considered leaders today. They are young people gaining valuable experience at offering voluntary, practical, innovative, non-governmental solutions to community needs. Nancy, Jason, and the Simpson Project organizers have been fortunate to gain this experience as members of a unique, private-sector initiative at work on the campus of a small, liberal arts college in Michigan.

A Unique Idea

With a $900,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, Hillsdale College unveiled the G.O.A.L. (Great Opportunities for Assistance and Leadership) program in 1988. Composed of 40 students and one full-time director, G.O.A.L is an interdisciplinary, community-service scholarship program. It supplements Hillsdale’s traditional liberal arts education with classroom instruction in philanthropy coupled with hands-on, practical, problem-solving experience in the voluntary sector in Hillsdale County.

Through this dual emphasis on academics and action, the program imparts to Hillsdale students the responsibility of individuals to improve the lives of other people by freely giving of themselves. This unique education is designed to inculcate in the young a sense of responsibility and accountability so that upon their graduation, they will be prepared to lead a life of active citizenship, philanthropy, humanitarian service, and leadership. Hillsdale College President George C. Roche explains the philosophy of G.O.A.L.:

It is one of the unfortunate truths of our time that a large portion of our people neither understand nor accept responsibility for serving the community. With the growth of government and increased dependence on its programs, the idea of active citizenship and assuming a personal obligation for the well-being of society has come more and more to be viewed as a relic of the past . . . . Little or nothing is taught in our nation’s schools about the significance and practical benefit of helping others, voluntarily with no coercion by government . . . .

We saw two sets of parallel and complementary needs, and we acted upon them. First, we saw that many of our young people, raised in an age that is increasingly materialistic and self-absorbed, need to commit themselves to something outside themselves, something that can give meaning and purpose to life. Second, we observed the many needs that exist right here in Hillsdale County—urgent needs for the basic material requirements of life and the educational opportunities that can provide a better future for those who would otherwise never have a chance.

From these observations we began innovating. The result is G.O.A.L . . . . designed to encourage the creative instincts of students, challenging them to find new, imaginative ways of addressing community problems and meeting basic human needs.

Three Responsibilities

Students from a wide variety of backgrounds across the United States apply for membership in G.O.A.L. All applicants have a proven record of leadership and voluntarism in their home communities, churches, and schools, as well as outstanding academic achievement. A competitive application process ensues, culminating with an interview before a faculty/administration selection committee.

Selected students are promptly charged with responsibilities in three areas. First, they venture into the Hillsdale community to research needs and design service programs to address those needs, giving a minimum of five hours a week. As George Roche says: “Go do something. Don’t write me another paper about it. Do something. We’re here to do more than have a higher standard of living.”

Some students work independently—like Jason with his community basketball league—while others work in conjunction with local service and charitable organizations, such as the Optimist Club of Hillsdale and the Hillsdale County United Way. Indeed, local Optimist Club members elected Jon Eckhardt, a G.O.A.L. student and Hillsdale native, vice president of the club; Chris McKenzie from Bay City, Michigan, sits on the United Way Board of Directors.

These young people are gaining valuable insights into the operations of not-for-profit service organizations. McKenzie says: “One main purpose of G.O.A.L. is to build bridges between the college and community. We are to take care of our fellow man. Taking care of others begins here.”

Students also attend monthly lectures delivered by outside experts. For example, G.O.A.L. students recently discussed with Washington Post columnist William Raspberry his interest in teen voluntarism. In addition, every Sunday evening all G.O.A.L. members convene to discuss concepts of philanthropy, voluntarism, and leadership, among other topics. In order to assess the leadership skills developed and nurtured through their year-long community-service activities, stu dents adjourn to Battle Creek after finishing final exams in mid-May to participate in an intensive three-day retreat.

In their second realm of responsibility, G.O.A.L. students are expected to involve themselves in a variety of extracurricular activities on the Hillsdale campus—ranging from Greek fraternities and athletics to student government and the college newspaper. As a group, the 40 G.O.A.L. students participate in 34 campus activities or honors groups while working in 43 off-campus community volunteer projects.

Finally, despite this whirlwind of involvement on and off campus, students must fulfill challenging responsibilities in the classroom. G.O.A.L. students must carry full academic course loads and earn a minimum 3.0 grade point average in order to retain their scholarships. Their median grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale suggests that G.O.A.L. students have no difficulty fulfilling this requirement.

Additionally, students enroll in a semester-long course taught by the G.O.A.L. director. The course teaches students the “techniques and traditions” of voluntarism, the history of philanthropy, and not-for-profit management. This instruction provides G.O.A.L. students with an intellectual groundwork for their in-the-field activities. Thus, not only does Nancy Pitzler, for example, operate her Elderly Companionship service project, she is active in a social sorority, numerous honoraries, and the campus Christian fellowship group. She carries a 3.7 average and pursues a double major in French and American Studies.

Scholarships for Leaders

This is a scholarship program, after all, and herein lies a unique twist. Hillsdale awards substantial merit scholarships to these student leaders, who otherwise might be financially unable to attend Hillsdale, to allow them the opportunity to attend a liberal arts college and learn firsthand the practical benefit of philanthropy and community service. The academic/service scholarships provide students with an excellent incentive to make the most of their time, in and out of the classroom. Rather then holding down a part-time or full-time job, G.O.A.L. students can devote significant time not only to hitting the books but to service as well.

Commenting on the rationale for scholarships, G.O.A.L. Director Duane C. Beauchamp says: “The scholarship is designed to free students from the necessity of working to get money for their educations. It doesn’t pay students for their service in the community but rather provides the means for them to give of themselves.”

These scholarships, however, are not automatically renewed each year. According to the 1989 annual report of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation: “Recipients are evaluated annually for demonstrated growth in leadership and volunteerism . . . . As fellowships are renewed from year-to-year, students become more serf-directed in their activities. They are eventually required to write and submit a proposal for possible funding by a foundation. The final year focuses on the students’ long-range volunteer plans as part of their career planning.”

Variety of Niches

The scope of the G.O.A.L. program in Hillsdale County is evidenced by the wide variety of project niches carved out by students. Ann Sundareson of Troy, Michigan, set up a tutoring program to aid Hillsdale youngsters in their schoolwork, especially mathematics. Ann remarks, “The G.O.A.L. program provided me with an opportunity to show what I could do, and to demonstrate to others that there are people who care and who will take time to serve.”

Kim Melvin is a talented student-athlete from Perrysburg, Ohio, and she orchestrates a Southern Michigan Special Olympics basketball tournament at the college sports complex every year. Her colleague, Jennifer Sanderson of Monroe, Michigan, coordinates her own community literacy program for adults.

Kenneth Pierce decided to compile a library of recorded books for the vision impaired. The Grand Rapids, Michigan, native reads books onto cassettes, and through his work the visually handicapped can enjoy many of their favorite literary works by simply listening to Kenneth’s voice.

Stephanie Tietje of Leland, Michigan, volunteers weekly at the Hillsdale County Medical Care Facility. Besides visiting with patients, Stephanie assists the staff by organizing events and social activities. She also works with Alzheimer’s disease patients to improve their memory by using tactile stimulation and the manipulation of simple objects on a device known as a memory board.

Julie Hasenbein of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, coordinates an after-school center at the First Presbyterian Church that keeps an eye on 15 small children. Working parents entrust their children, ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade, to Julie and her team of volunteers from 3:30 to 5:30 every weekday afternoon. Julie asserts that “through these volunteers, the children are given good role models in social behavior, values and morals, aca demics, and respect for others.” The after-school center has proved so effective in addressing the growing day-care needs of working parents that a Presbyterian Church in nearby Jonesville, Michigan, has established a similar center of its own.

Scott Woodman, an aspiring doctor from the Detroit suburb of Northville, involves himself at the Hillsdale Community Health Center. Most notably, he organized a renovation of the hospital’s pediatrics unit. “Working at the hospital, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re helping. What if I had that illness? It makes volunteering easier, because I would want somebody to care for me in this way.”

Detroit’s Miechia Esco has experienced voluntarism in several G.O.A.L. projects. “My involvement in these projects gave me the opportunity to receive as much as I gave,” she comments. “Helping others get the chance to accomplish on their own: that is the real spirit of voluntarism!”

However, these G.O.A.L. students are by no means the only Hillsdale students to experience the value of community service firsthand through their college educations. All G.O.A.L. members are expected to provide opportunities for their classmates’ involvement in volunteer projects that suit their respective personal interests and complement their talents. For example, in Jason Andrews’ basketball league, he recruits six college students to volunteer their time as coaches to serve alongside Hillsdale residents recruited by the city Recreation Department.

Michelle Porritt of Oxford, Michigan, views G.O.A.L. as a volunteer “clearinghouse” for students: “Before Hillsdale had G.O.A.L., there wasnowhere for would-be volunteers to go for guidance, but now they know we’re here and we can plug them into a program.” By motivating their classmates to contribute their time and energy to worthy community causes, G.O.A.L. members spread the spirit of voluntarism across the Hillsdale campus. In the words of Birmingham, Michigan’s Paula Shelton: “I never had the opportunity to be involved in volunteer programs. G.O.A.L. has provided the guidance to show me how to serve effectively.” Appearing on the Christian Broadcast Network’s Family Channel “Straight Talk,” Paula told host Scott Ross that service to others “is far more rewarding than time i spend by myself. The investment that you make in people’s lives and what you get back from that is inspiring.”

Hometown Voluntarism

G.O.A.L. students don’t confine their community service to Hillsdale County, however. Upon becoming G.O.A.L. students, they sign “student growth contracts” agreeing to give 20 hours of service each summer in their hometowns. For example, according to G.O.A.L. News, the program’s quarterly newsletter, Nancy Kwant spent her summer “vacation” volunteering not only in her hometown but in several other cities. In her hometown of Lowell, Michigan, she peeled potatoes, helping the Franciscan Sisters “prepare meals for the jubilees celebrating the nuns’ 25- and 50-year anniversaries in the religious life.”

Nancy then packed her bags for a Pennsylvania day camp where she could work with poor children from low-income housing projects in Pittsburgh. “She helped the scrappy five-to-eight year olds play games, do crafts, and learn how to listen to stories,” G.O.A.L. News reports. Her strength, patience, and compassion were constantly tested since, in Nancy’s words, “these kids were used to so much hostility.” In addition to her camp work, Nancy found time to build and restore houses with the Pittsburgh chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

From Pittsburgh, Nancy Kwant moved on to Springfield, Massachusetts, where she gained invaluable experience at a day camp for Spanish-speaking children. She was able to put her foreign language training to use, astonishing the kids by speaking fluently in their native tongue. Many of these children were the victims of child abuse, broken homes, and drug-infested neighborhoods.

Traveling south from Springfield, Nancy landed in Connecticut where she wrapped up her summer the way she started it: peeling potatoes. She volunteered in the kitchen of a Hartford tutorial center. With these experiences in hand, Nancy returned to Hillsdale and resumed her studies with “a new view as to what it is to sacrifice and adjust. So little is required to try and make that difference [in people’s lives], I wonder why more people don’t give it a chance.”

A Rare Species

The G.O.A.L. program is rearing a rare species of leader committed to the values and virtues of voluntary citizen cooperation in solving societal problems—values and virtues in short supply today. As George Roche notes: “In the absence of government intervention, leadership in the form of volunteerism and altruism can promote permanent solutions to problems confronting the Hillsdale community as well as the nation. This pro gram involves students working to help people locally. It’s not more government funds or programs; it’s individuals seeing problems in the community and doing something to resolve them.”

G.O.A.L. is a model of private initiative applicable to many colleges and universities across the United States. George Roche, quoted in the Detroit Free Press, says, “I would think [G.O.A.L.] has great potential. I don’t see why we couldn’t have this on most college campuses . . . . It certainly should have a place in higher education. If it doesn’t, I’ll be disappointed in higher education.” The Phoenix Gazette echoes Roche in a January 20, 1990, editorial: “The Hillsdale program is a modest but worthy effort to rekindle interest in common purposes. It sets an example for other schools to follow.”

Hillsdale’s program is an innovative way to finance the college education of some of our young leaders while imparting to them one of the most important truths articulated in the academy: the sanctity of free individuals, exercising their talents to improve themselves and the lives of others. G.O.A.L. Director Duane Beauchamp stuns it up: “G.O.A.L. combines education and action. It promotes the best instincts of young people. And it places the responsibility for community service where it should be placed, not on government, but on the moral conscience of the individual.”