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Working locally, helping globally


A battle of the bands, a food-can construction contest and a gift mart that helps people around the world are just a few of the programs that Anne Arundel Community College students have organized as part of their involvement with the college's Center for Learning Through Service.

The center, which opened in 2001 and has paired thousands of students with organizations that need their help, recently reached a milestone when the value of its services passed the $1 million mark.

"It's really about matching needs," said Cathleen Doyle, who has been the center's program coordinator since the beginning. "Matching the student's academic needs with the community needs."

The center also recently won the Service Learning and Civic Engagement Collaboration Award for International Service Learning from the Community College National Center for Community Engagement.

That award was for the Global Giving Market, which students ran in November 2004 and 2005.

The mart is the result of a partnership with A Greater Gift, based in Maryland and Wisconsin, and Alternative Gifts International, based in Kansas. Customers can purchase items such as bricks in Haiti or trees for the rain forest. Students researched the countries and the issues and created display tables for the event, Doyle said. They also tracked inventory and publicized the sale.

The first year, sales were about $3,800, and in 2005 they were nearly $5,500, Doyle said. Next year, that number likely will grow, Doyle said. There's interest in getting students in culinary and performing arts involved. "It's got a lot of potential as we get bigger," Doyle said.

Though the Global Giving Market is an international effort, most of the work done by the Center for Learning Through Service is local. The center works with 117 agencies, mostly in Anne Arundel County, matching student talents with places where they can be put to use.

The center is different from other volunteer programs because it requires that students learn while helping. For example, business students learned how to set up a business while creating the gift mart, and architecture students were involved in the can construction project.

The point of the center, said Doyle, is to "have an academic-based volunteer activity in the community to enhance what they're learning in the classroom."

Some professors require that students participate, Doyle said. Others encourage it.

At first, Doyle said, the center worked mostly with students in the psychology and sociology departments. Now, about 75 professors are involved, drawing students from such diverse majors as nursing, English, business and English as a second language, she said. "We support whatever the instructor wants to do from a curriculum standpoint," she said.

The center has worked with 4,590 students to date, who have volunteered 62,488 hours of community service. The college values those hours at more than $1 million.

One agency that works with the center is Food Link, based in Annapolis, a nonprofit organization that provides donated foods and services to people in need.

Food Link's executive director, Cathy Holstrom, said working with students from the center has been "an absolutely wonderful experience."

She said students involved with the program have done everything from organizing the food pantry to holding food drives for Food Link. In April, students held a Battle of the Bands competition, and asked members of the audience to pay their entrance fee with cans of food, she said.

"I know that for the students involved, it was a real learning curve," she said. "But they're already talking about doing it again next year."

Another food-collection event was a competition called CANstruction. The event, trademarked by the Society for Design Administration, gives architecture students in communities throughout the nation a unique opportunity to build one of their designs - though they have to do it out of cans of food.

In Anne Arundel County, the event has taken place for two years now, and students have landmarks such as London's Big Ben, the Greek Parthenon and the Eiffel Tower.

The students set up the structures at Arundel Mills in December, Holstrom said. "They are there for the public to enjoy for a week," she said. "At the end, all that food is divided and distributed to our pantries."

The event brought in 14,000 to 15,000 pounds of food, she said. "The bottom line is, there's going to be a person at the other end, there's going to be a person in need who is receiving something," Holstrom said.

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