Bonner Scholars on location at a service learning project

Community Service

College Town's community service projectWofford College’s future, past, and present shares a common desire to give to others whether through service and time or giving pearls of education to all who pass through its gates.

Wofford’s service roots originate in connections and dialogue between faculty and students. In the early 1950’s, Professor Ratah McGee and a student, Farrell Cox, started an afternoon project with children in a nearby economically disadvantaged neighborhood.  Students passed beneath the railroad pass behind Wofford College to the area where Vic Bailey Automotive stands now for “Gas  Bottom” service each day.  The Gas Bottom Project, named for the neighborhood near where it originated, was one of the first bi- racial projects in South Carolina. Students’ engagement in bi-racial service marked a monumental step amidst deep racial tensions and segregation in South Carolina. The Gas Bottom program gave students an opportunity every afternoon to enjoy recreational activities with the neighborhood children. In 1967, Happy Saturday originated through the work of Henry Freeman and Tom LeClair. They would meet several children at a designated telephone pole on Saturdays and join in recreational activities. Henry used fifty dollars, which he received from Wofford, to buy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the children. Happy Saturday initiated service for many students but unfortunately the program died away after Henry graduated. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960s, students remained active in racial and anti-war sentiments and issues of the times. Students’ expression often showed itself in service and community involvement.

In 1982, Dr. Larry McGehee, Vice President of the college, worked with the Kettering Foundation which emphasized the need for people of all ages to take moral responsibility for their lives. Through his work, he led discussions with college presidents and at the American Council on Education convention centered on civic engagement. The discussions led to the establishment of formal and organizational volunteer service work at many higher education institutions and at Wofford College.

Wofford’s Volunteer Services moved first to Campus Ministry under the leadership of Dr. Talmage Skinner, Campus Chaplain. Twin Towers Service organization, formed in 1989, encompassed the entire Wofford community as its actual Twin Towers of Main Building stand high above the college and serve as the collegiate symbol for all who pass beneath their shadow. Upon President Lesesne’s direction, Twin Towers then moved to the Student Affairs department under the leadership of Mark Line, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Volunteer Services. Currently a cabinet of 10-15 students now leads this organization with two student directors and the guidance of Lyn Pace, Director of Volunteer Services and Associate Chaplain.

College Town's community service project at Lawson Fork CreekStudent leadership has been elemental to Twin Towers since it’s beginning. The first student director was Max O. Smith and from the beginning he worked tirelessly to develop innovative service work for Twin Towers. Student Charlotte Holden started Wofford’s annual Halloween Carnival held in the Andrew’s Field House on Wofford’s campus.  The carnival was originally formed for the children at the Bethlehem Community Center, but it quickly expanded to the entire Spartanburg community. Each Halloween Carnival brings a host of children from community agencies for an evening of carnival events designed by student groups and trick-or-treating through Greene dormitory. The women of Greene hall decorate the halls for their community guests. Since it’s founding, Twin Towers has continued to grow and flourish among all members of the Wofford community. Its programs reach all avenues of student interest and community need.

The Bonner Scholars Program began at Wofford during the 1991-1992 school year. Wofford College’s Bonner Scholars Program is one of 27 collegiate service scholarship programs supported annually by the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation in Princeton, NJ. Wofford’s 80 Bonner Scholars serve 280 hours during the school year and 280 hours during the summer in local and national service agencies. Students engage in a range of service issues and focus areas including literacy and education, children and mentoring, senior services, hunger and homelessness, medical service, and environmental action. Students’ service directly relates to their interest.

Wofford’s Bonner Program began with twenty-five first year students interested in combining their collegiate experience with their passion for community service. Chaplain Talmage Skinner and Charlotte Holden, a student at the time, assisted the scholars in doing service at Z.L. Madden Elementary School and at the Bethlehem Community Center.  Throughout the Bonner Program’s growth and development, the leadership transitioned. The program expanded from twenty-five Bonner Scholars to a current total of sixty Bonner Scholars.

The Wofford College Americorps Bonner Leaders Program started in 1998 with an entering class of three people. Wofford’s Americorps Bonner Leaders program is open to all Wofford students. Members participate in service leadership and community action in a variety of service sites and issues. Americorps members are part of the National Corporation for Service Americorps initiatives and the national service movement. They serve a total of 900 hours over a two-year period. Upon completion, they receive $2362.50 loan reduction. The Americorps Bonner Leaders is an initiative available to Bonner students and collegiate students interested in taking volunteer service to another level.

Bonner Director, Michelle Sattler, was instrumental in beginning the Americorps initiative at Wofford. Through informational meetings and her work with three particular Bonner Scholars, she initiated the Americorps Bonner Leaders Program at Wofford. Wofford students Bindi Ghandi, Jon Williams, and Lyn Pace were the pilot members of the program. Each student was interested in working with children at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Spartanburg Smart Center at Arcadia Elementary School. Langley Moore was also instrumental in leading the Americorps Bonner Leaders Program. She began as Assistant to the Bonner Scholars Program and Americorps Bonner Leaders Program Coordinator from the summer of 1998 to the summer of 1999.

During the summer of 1999, the role of Americorps Bonner Leaders Coordinator and Bonner Director was consolidated into one position under the leadership of Hunter Phillips. The Americorps Bonner Leaders Program transitioned from group only service initiatives to individual programs. Students had the option of creating their own program or supporting an existing initiative in the community. Programs for teenage pregnancy prevention, reading and literacy, mentoring, and anti-violence sprang forth from Americorps and Bonner programmatic initiatives. Though not all of the service initiatives survived the test of time, all proved the sustainability and power of student initiative and vision.

In 1999, Terrier Play Day community carnival was created in honor of President Joab Lesesne’s retirement after 28 years of service to the Wofford and Spartanburg communities. Today, Terrier Play Day continues to honor and celebrate Wofford College’s commitment to the Spartanburg community and President Dunlap’s continued commitment to service both inside and outside the boundaries of Wofford College. Terrier Play Day unites students, faculty, staff, and administration with children from local service agencies where Wofford students regularly volunteer for a day of carnival fun on the main lawn in front of Old Main. Student organizations design and sponsor booths ranging from moon bounces, a dunk tank, and large slides to face painting and cookie design.

The Wofford Service Roundtable was formed in the fall of 2000 to unite all service initiatives on campus around a common forum for discussion, evaluation, planning, and implementation. The forum also brings a commonality in goals for all parts of the Wofford service network.

Micah 6 community service programIn the spring of 2001, Wofford College joined a consortium of Bonner Scholars and Americorps Bonner Leaders schools to initiate a Micah 6 project on campus. Micah 6: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God, is sponsored through the National Council of Churches and engages students with local congregations in service and spiritual study and reflection. In the Fall of 2001, fifteen students will engage in service at Gravely Memorial United Methodist Church’s after school program and reflect upon social justice issues of illiteracy, single parenthood, and English as a Second Language education in the context of Biblical study and discussion.

Wofford’s service programs continue to shape its culture. Whether in word or spirit, service to another remains a vital part of the Wofford’s community and all who pass beneath its Twin Towers. Since the organization of volunteer service and the creation of service scholarship programs like the Bonner Scholars program, organized service has flourished and increased Wofford students’ many opportunities. This brief history does not fully do justice to the many facets of service both inside and outside the Wofford community. Wofford’s service history is ever forming and changing and will forever remain etched on the memories of those who serve it.