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Service learning goes to the dogs (and horses)

Students volunteered with Rainbow Riders and other organizations during their midterm break.

By Geoff Ash

When community service means walking dogs and spending time with horses, it is hard not to get involved. At least that was the intention of Penny Cofield, experiential learning co-ordinator with Career Development and Experiential Learning, during midterm break June 18-19.

Ms. Cofield co-ordinates Make Midterm Matter (MMM), a service learning program where students forego the typical midterm break to volunteer with various community organizations.

"It's really a win-win," said Ms. Cofield. "The students get a fabulous experience and we conduct a needs assessment with each partner, to ensure that they get something they really need from the project."

What began as a Community Service Learning Day in 2005 has enriched the lives of more than 1,700 Memorial students, and benefitted organizations throughout the Avalon region.

Community partners for the most recent project were Beagle Paws (cleaning kennel areas, walking and exercising the dogs), Rainbow Riders (painting the main stable and learning about therapeutic horseback riding) and Pippy Park (painting the mini-golf course and maintaining the trail system).

In the past, students have had opportunities to volunteer with a wide range of community partners including Habitat for Humanity, Memorial's community garden, the Gathering Place, Street Reach and local long-term care facilities.
"Make Midterm Matter is an excellent event for students to get started in volunteering," said Jordan Chafe, co-ordinator, Student Volunteer Bureau. "It could be the first time volunteering for a lot of students, it's a safer way to get started because the placements are organized by Memorial and they are all group activities."

Ms. Chafe adds that most students who participate in MMM want to continue to volunteer.

"During the event a lot of students ask about the Volunteer Incentive Program, and afterward we get a lot of them returning looking for new experiences."
Reflection is the crux of service learning, explains Ms. Cofield, so reflective components are a central part of the program.

"There is always some preparatory activity before we go out to the partner organization, and afterward we always try to pull everyone back together, whether that's in a paired format or as one group. Capturing the experience at the end of the day is very important — what the day meant to them as an individual, what they feel like they contributed to the organization, what were some of the challenges they encountered. And every time you work in a team or with a group of people there are different energies that emerge, which is a learning experience in itself."

Ms. Cofield says that many professors already embrace curricular service learning, but her goal is to provide support to faculty who wish to incorporate it into their courses here at Memorial.

The Department of Career Development and Experiential Learning provides many experiential programs and career services for students at Memorial. For more information on service learning opportunities, contact Ms. Cofield at pcofield@mun.ca.

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