Coming Full Circle

…A look back at OWU’s community service heritage

Sue Pasters. (Photo courtesy of OWU’s Office of University Chaplain)

Editor’s Note: To honor Sue Pasters as she retires from OWU and her responsibilities as Director of Community Service Learning, the Connect2 OWU staff is re-posting the following story, which highlights Pasters’ many contributions to that office, Ohio Wesleyan, and the Delaware community.

“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Long before the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, there was a time in OWU’s early history when this University was known as the “West Point of Missions,” because of the number of graduates who served as missionaries abroad. Soon after, the Peace Corps attracted increasing numbers of OWU alumni to serve, again reflecting well on their alma mater. And years later, on Ohio Wesleyan’s campus, there arose service-driven organizations such as Crossroads Africa, and the Friendship Families program overseen by OWU’s former Chaplain, Jim Leslie. Still later came such groups as Habitat for Humanity, Project Hope, Give Five, and a FIPSE grant enabling a partnership between Ohio Wesleyan and Crestview Middle School in Columbus. This effort grew into what we know today as The Columbus Initiative, a tutoring and mentoring program linking Ohio Wesleyan students with Columbus inner city schoolchildren.  Serving others and offering a supportive learning environment enabling students to be caring, contributing world citizens, continue to provide the inspiration and energy behind OWU’s community service learning programs.

“It’s in our DNA,” says Chaplain Jon Powers, pointing to these programs and the more than 45,000 hours of community service completed by OWU students during the 2008-2009 academic year alone. During his last 22 years as OWU’s Chaplain, Powers’ vision of the Chaplain’s office driving the University’s community service efforts has been more than realized.

David Warren, our 13th President, and I shared the belief that we are here to educate our students for leadership and service,” says Powers.  One of his first projects as such, was to help plan the 1990 community service summit at OWU, bringing together Delaware’s key service agencies with the University for networking and roundtable discussions.

“We came together for an evening to build rapport and dream together about the future,” says Powers. Just before the summit, he had hired Sue Pasters to set up the office, direct OWU’s community service learning program—and mobilize The Columbus  Initiative. Her special interest in helping at-risk youth spearheaded the evolution of several campus/community partnerships under the Delaware Initiative. In 1993, OWU was selected to host a Summer of Service (S.O.S.) program  (the precursor to AmeriCorps). Running from June 14 to August 20, the program included 71 college and high school  students (34 from OWU) who applied and were screened by Pasters’ staff. One of 16 sites chosen by the Commission on National and Community Service, Ohio Wesleyan was the only liberal arts college in the nation to serve in this capacity.

Participants attended a week-long national training session in San Francisco and then were assigned to work at specific sites in Delaware and Columbus, Ohio.

“For more than two months, our team worked every day from the crack of dawn, when we practiced morning calisthenics in front of Welch Hall, to late each night,”says Pasters, who  co-directed the S.O.S. program, which culminated in a visit to the White House by two OWU students and Powers for a post Summer of Service summit meeting with President Clinton.

“That program turned out to be more than I thought it would be, in terms of outcomes, lives that were impacted, lessons learned, and a deepening of partnership relationships with Delaware and Franklin counties,” says Powers. As they look back over their years at OWU, he and Pasters agree on what has been a key to their success.

“We always try to match the community’s greatest needs with our students’ passions,” says Powers. “We then don’t have to micromanage. That has been the genius of Sue’s work.” It also has been one of the reasons for the success of both OWU’s mission trip program and Lilly Endowment Initiative.  Working with OWU, the Lilly Endowment provided $2.5 million over an eight- year period, and an additional $500,000 over the past three years to encourage students, professors, academic advisors, and alumni to reflect on how and why we make vocational choices.  As Powers notes, OWU is committed, out of this grant, to raise a $6 million endowment to sustain this program.

Looking back over their 20 years-plus OWU working relationship, both Powers and Pasters remember their “Aha!” moments and what they have learned from students.

“When I first was hired, I had an idea of what community service was like on college campuses,” says Pasters. “But I didn’t fully grasp the impact until my fifth year [at OWU] when young alumni began telling me how life choices were being influenced by their college service experiences.” For Powers, he recalls participating in the Lakota Nation mission trip several years ago, with a special student who, as he says, taught him to be a “perfect stranger.”

“Jen Osborne taught me to give our hosts my undivided attention and to be present for them,” says Powers. No tape recording, picking up trash, or doing anything else but listening and learning. You become, as Pasters observes, “humble learners.”

“Going on mission trips with students is a great leveling experience as we learn from each other,” she says. Reflecting further on OWU’s recent Presidential award for community service, her eyes shine with happiness.

“No one individual owns this honor. It truly is a University award.

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