Distributed March 13, 2000
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel



Swearer Humanitarian Award

Five college students receive national honors for community service
Five U.S. college students will receive the Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award Thursday, March 16, 2000, in recognition of their commitment to public service and service learning.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Five U.S. college students who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to community service will receive the Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award on Thursday morning, March 16, 2000, during the opening session of the National Youth Leadership Council’s national conference in Providence. The awards will be presented by Edward Liston, president of the Community College of Rhode Island, and Elizabeth Hollander, executive director of Campus Compact.

The award, which honors the life and work of Howard R. Swearer, 15th president of Brown University, is presented annually by Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 660 college and university presidents who are committed to making community service an integral part of undergraduate education. Swearer was one of three university presidents who founded Campus Compact in 1985. This year’s recipients are:

  • Gregory Duff Morton, Riverside, Calif., a senior at Yale University;

  • Lauren Rymer, Lake Butler, Fla., a senior honors student at the University of North Florida;

  • Cecilia Shepard, San Francisco, Calif., a student at San Francisco State University;

  • Duaré Valenzuela, Rio Rico, Ariz., a junior at the University of Pennsylvania;

  • Kirsten Walter, Los Gatos, Calif., a 1999 graduate of Bates College.

Students are nominated for the award by their college presidents. Each award includes a $1,500 contribution to a community service project of the recipient’s choice. This year’s recipients represent a wide range of community service interests, including refugee services, urban access to health care, interventions for the homeless, community education programs, and community gardens.

For additional information, contact Pam Boylan at Campus Compact, (401) 863-1119.

Recipients

Gregory Duff Morton – During his four years at Yale University, Morton has been committed to understanding and improving the lives of disadvantaged members of the New Haven community. His concern for the well-being of others and his desire to make positive change in the local community led him to create a program called Outreach in the fall of 1998. Through Outreach, Morton helped train Yale students to serve the needs of the homeless population, connecting people with shelters, food, drug rehabilitation programs, and job programs. Concerned that Outreach was not adequately addressing the needs of the homeless population, he worked with members of the homeless community to expand Outreach into Harmony Place, a community center run jointly by Yale students and homeless people, which meets people’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter and advocates for structural change.

As a Latin American studies major, Morton has been able to understand homelessness in a global context and as part of larger First World/Third World inequalities. He brings this academic background, as well as first-hand experience working with homeless children in Mexico City, to bear on the structure and function of Harmony Place.

Morton’s long-term commitment to improving conditions in New Haven and the integrity he brings to his service work have led Yale President Richard Levin to describe him as “both visionary and someone who rolls his sleeves up and goes to work,” an inspiration to members of the Yale and New Haven communities.

Lauren Rymer – A senior honors student at the University of North Florida, Rymer has integrated her commitment to service-learning into all aspects of her life throughout her four years. Her service experiences at homeless shelters in Jacksonville and Ecuador, as well as her experience assisting a local refugee family, inspired her to develop a very popular service-learning course called Refugee Issues, which has had lasting impact on students and community members alike.

As facilitator of the Refugee Issues class, Rymer helps train students for their role as cultural guides and English tutors for local refugee families and their children, guides them in reflection exercises, and assists them with larger service projects like food drives and refugee issue-based Web sites. Through the course, Rymer has helped raise awareness about the plight of refugees in the Jacksonville area and has distributed food to more than 950 local families. She has also convinced the state to match every volunteer hour and dollar donated by the course participants. As a Campus Compact Templeton Fellow, Rymer brought the benefits of service-learning to the attention of the university president. She intends to continue in public service after graduation as an AmeriCorps or PeaceCorps volunteer and hopes to pursue graduate work in a field related to international issues.

Cecilia Shepard – Shepard, a student at San Francisco State University (SFSU), two-term president of the Hayes Valley Public Housing complex, and 38-year-old mother of five, has devoted more than a decade of her time and energy to making her community a better place to live. As a resident of Hayes Valley for more than 11 years, she has worked as a scholarship recruiter, obtaining six full 13-year scholarships for Hayes Valley children to attend the French American International School. She has worked with a coalition to help raise money to remodel a local park, and most recently, as president of the Hayes Valley Resident Management Corporation (HVRMC), she helped turn Hayes Valley from a community in decline to a thriving residential complex currently designated as a “Campus of Learners.” As a co-author of the original “Campus of Learners” proposal, Shepard has helped bring computers and internet access to every apartment in the complex. Working in collaboration with SFSU faculty and staff, Shepard has also been instrumental in bringing a computer learning center, a teleconferencing center, and a childhood development center to the housing complex.

During her tenure as president, HVRMC has formed a partnership with SFSU to offer courses at Hayes Valley, open to residents and traditional SFSU students alike. These courses, Shepard notes, allow “residents to attend classes in their neighborhood while becoming familiar with re-entering the college atmosphere.” And, when the course is a service-learning course, they allow residents to serve as both volunteers and educators as well.

Her innovative approach and dedication to improving her community have made Shepard a national spokesperson and inspiration for other public housing residents pursuing “Campus of Learners” status for their residential community.

Duaré Valenzuela – Concerned about the “enormous disparities in health and access to health care of many West Philadelphia residents,” Valenzuela set her mind and energy to improving the health of local community members. A junior at the University of Pennsylvania, she helped create the “Masters of Health” club, a peer health education training program for local middle school students that connects local residents with one of the best medical centers in the nation. This program educates young people about the health issues affecting their lives and the lives of their peers, trains them to educate other young people about these issues, and introduces them to various health care professionals and careers.

Excited about the potential educational, experiential, and communal benefits of service-learning, and interested in pursuing innovative ways to address community problems, Valenzuela has proposed creating an urban health minor at Penn. The minor would offer students an opportunity to do field work in West Philadelphia while learning about health-related issues, and would provide longevity and an institutional base for the “Masters of Health” program.

Valenzuela hopes to continue work on community health issues as she pursues a medical career.

Kirsten Walter – Community gardens, according to Walter, are “conscious attempts to deal with core, structural problems that communities and individuals face.” Gardens help bring individuals together and strengthen community bonds; they serve as a source of nutritious food, and create a meaningful connection to and pride in the place where one lives.

As a student at Bates College, Walter designed, coordinated, planned and tended to the community garden located at a nearby public housing project. In collaboration with local families, and particularly with local children, Walter has created a working garden that produces a harvest enjoyed by family gardeners and sold at the Hilltop Veggie Stand. The garden has also served as a focal point around which she designed an educational curriculum on children’s self-esteem and individual expression.

Walter’s work on the garden has been publicly recognized for providing a source of beauty in the local community, and for developing trust and an economic base for local residents. As Bates President Donald Harward writes, “Kirsten’s passion for social justice and love of the earth helped to create a community which nurtured its members and strengthened their ability to give back to the community. Her communal gardens provide an elegantly simple, yet powerful, model for releasing human potential and building community.”

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