SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Students in Dr. Alysa Handelsman’s anthropology course Building Sustainable Communities set out to provide the families of Spartanburg’s Cleveland Academy a cookbook of healthy and accessible meals. The students have since gone beyond their initial goal.

Handelsman, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, serves as an adviser for student-led community projects such as C.H.E.F.S. Club at Cleveland Academy. For her work in advising students who have assisted the community, she recently was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by The Rotary Foundation. She received the honor after the North Spartanburg Rotary Club made a donation to Rotary International in her honor.

The C.H.E.F.S. Club teaches cooking skills and nutrition information to its club members. The club provides leadership skills to the members as the students help encourage healthy eating habits for their families and peers. The club also invites guest speakers to the school, and the members write reflections based on what they learned from these speakers, which allows for the students to reflect on their personal growth and improve their writing skills.

Aside from the collaborative cookbook they set out to create, Cleveland Academy students have continued to expand and grow as a school organization. They have served meals to a few groups within the community and are eager to incorporate the vegetables and herbs grown in the school’s garden into their meals.

As students in Handelsman’s course Building Sustainable Communities, Kendall Weaver and Helen Seddelmeyer helped establish the C.H.E.F.S. Club. Since then, the club has grown from 15 4th-grade students to about 45 4th- and 5th-grade students, with several of the original members remaining part of the club. Weaver is a senior international affairs major with minors in Arabic and sociology and anthropology and a concentration in Middle Eastern and North African Studies from Lexington, S.C., and Seddelmeyer is a Dallas, Texas native and a 2019 graduate with degrees in German and sociology and anthropology. Wofford students continue to volunteer with the C.H.E.F.S. Club to offer the Cleveland Academy students guidance and support.

In the community-based learning course, students go into the community to find a service project or they create their own project based on community assets, needs and interests. Handelsman considers community-based learning to be “true, experiential learning” that allows students to gain a better understanding of issues including racism, poverty and equity. The course also follows what Handelsman refers to as an “asset-based model,” meaning the projects these students participate in are ones that consider the community’s skills and can be sustained by the people in the community. Ultimately, the course encourages each student to find their passion and utilize it to collaborate with and support the Spartanburg community. Students begin as volunteers and end up becoming community partners, advocates and allies.

Handelsman continues to develop relationships with other service organizations in Spartanburg while maintaining the one she has formed with the Rotary Club. “I can see Wofford shifting toward community-based learning,” she says, noting how professors and students alike have created initiatives and programs to give back to the community. “Community-based learning is another way of gaining a better understanding of the world.”

Wofford College currently offers occasional workshops and meetings for faculty to connect and learn the best practices for working within communities.