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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014

A Few Clouds, 67 °F

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Avery Tucker (red shirt) with YEAH children during summer work

Photo courtesy of: Community Food Initiative

Southside Carriage Hill

Workers gardening at Carriage Hill

Photo courtesy of: Community Food Initiative

Gathering Place

An Ohio University work-study student works at The Gathering Place

Photo courtesy of: The Gathering Place

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Summer work-study students gave back to local community


While many of their classmates left campus behind for the summer, some Ohio University students stayed in Athens in order to work for local organizations as part of a community work-study program.

A certain percent of government dollars that the university receives must be invested in the community, said Barbara Harrison, the assistant director of off-campus living and community service. As a result, the university places students into positions at about 16 local agencies throughout the year, including Community Food Initiatives (CFI) and The Gathering Place.

The Campus Involvement Center works as an intermediary between the organizations and the students, requesting résumés and confirming eligibility, as well as handling all payment through the federal funds. The agencies themselves interview and hire the students.

Mary Nally, the director of CFI, took on two work-study students this summer. Their participation was crucial to the continued functioning of the organization, she said, because the full-time AmeriCorps workers do not work during July.

The three main areas of focus for CFI are community gardens, school gardens and the Donation Station, which solicits cash and fresh food donations to distribute to local food pantries.

Because July is the peak season for gardens, both students "hit the ground running" and were integrated as staff members into many aspects of the organization.

"We wouldn't be able to do our summer programs without having OU students here to help," Nally said.

Avery Tucker, a current senior studying plant biology, took over the Donation Station, regularly traveling to the Athens Farmers Market, the Chesterhill Produce Auction, and even to private farms to collect donations.

He also helped lead a community garden program for kids ages 11-17 at the low-income Hope Drive Apartments.

Guided by CFI, the kids maintain and cultivate their garden, selling the produce at the Farmer's Market. They also make value-added products, such as jams and prepared salads, and learn how to market and sell these goods.

"It essentially operates as a summer job program with entrepreneurial, culinary, gardening and business education built into it," Nally said.

For Tucker, the most rewarding experience was learning more about the Athens community and the people that exist within it. Throughout his years at Ohio University, he had wanted to explore the community but had not found the right venue to do so.

"I've met a lot of really great people at CFI and I know that there's a lot of good going on in Athens," Tucker said. "I see that now, and it's really gratifying."

The Gathering Place, a mental health drop-in center, is another of the venues that serve as a window to the "good going on in Athens."

At The Gathering Place, the primary role of the work-study students is to interact and socialize with the members, said director Mary Kneier.

However, this summer's students did much more—they planned recreational activities, coordinated and prepared meals, facilitated and women's support group, planned fundraisers, turned odd jobs such as painting a table into group activities with members, and even painted a member's shed at his house when he did not have the ability or the money to do so himself.

Morgan Dewey, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders, described working at The Gathering Place, as an "awesome, eye-opening experience."

"I really learned how to interact with people that might not necessarily have the same values or ideas about different things, and I really think that made me a more patient and empathetic and understanding individual," Dewey said.