Come to Fellowship with the Fools
This week’s blog is from Silena Layne ’14, (center) Program Director at Faithful Fools and a long-time community partner of the Center. Learn about her experience with community-engaged learning classes at USF and how it influenced her current work in non-profits throughout San Francisco.
Change is hard and when USF introduced student service-learning programs in 2002 as a requirement for graduating, it was infuriating. All I imagined was stepping out and leaving behind the comfortable and familiar campus culture to do preplanned projects only to make our professors happy. This was shocking for an undergraduate student from a low-income community, attending a private Jesuit university in one of the richest cities in the world.
When the course outlines were shared, they read like the historically religious missionary programs I had only seen on TV in developing countries. Students were instructed to “Think globally but act locally, use your heart and mind to change the world from here and help those that need us most.” As a Bay Area native, this reminded me that charities should be a choice, not a requirement for graduation.
Thankfully over time, the model shifted to where we could collectively design and benefit from any project. Each assigned community partnership allowed students to leave campus with a
purposeful project. Through intentional community building, using a “yes and” approach to service learning and social reform, students were having real life experiences in San Francisco neighborhoods that really appreciated their support. This was not about the “rich giving to the poor” as I had assumed, instead we were immersed in organizations and programs throughout the city that created opportunities for thinking, learning together and taking risks. We designed and implemented projects that were fun, worthwhile and sustainable for community partners and most days away from campus felt like less of an assignment.
My involvement with USF’s service-learning and community engagement programs continued for a decade after I graduated as a nonprofit director and leader in management for various organizations and city agencies. As a service provider, I welcomed students to assist with our program goals and strategic plans; we designed health and resource fairs for families, coordinated food distribution and art showcases. These service learning projects have elevated the outcomes for local nonprofits in so many ways and I hope the students understood the worth of their contributions.
My connection to USF continues today through my work at Faithful Fools, a women-led street level learning community in the Tenderloin. Faithful Fools have hosted USF students for 15 years and collaborated on projects that truly embodied social change. From equity conversations to youth empowerment and anti-racist curriculum design, Fools have invested hundreds of hours in shifting the mindset of students and challenging them to see the world through an equitable lens.
Learn more about our resources and opportunities for community partners HERE.