SEEDS Cultivates a “Giving Tree” Spirit
The showers never run cold at Reed.
I’ve lived on campus for 2 years now, and I‘ve noticed a couple things. Whether a given student scrounges or feasts on Plan A, someone else washes their dishes. Library bathrooms mysteriously clean themselves overnight. The SU gives birth to hamster wheels and couch seesaws, dank sound systems with matching lasers, and cozy furniture. These things help enable our academic life, which is itself assisted by such services as the DoJo. Our library is equipped with modern computers and an extensive loan network, while the campus-wide internet connection (which a majority of students connect to from expensive personal laptops) rarely shuts down.
These conditions are rare and extremely valuable. Portland is full of kids who would love to be in our position – lasers, internet access, tutoring, all of it. Only a handful of them, however, have a chance. Even given a reliable shelter and stable parenting situation, children in public education face many obstacles: inadequate disability support services, inadequate nutrition, inadequate educational methods and objectives, inadequate funds for school materials (let alone for SAT/ACT test fees and other college application costs) – it’s a long list. And should a kid manage meet and overcome these adversities, he or she still has to pay for college; unfortunately, no matter how dedicated a financial aid department is, tuition assistance often fails to offer a viable solution.
So, what? We students have clearly made it past the obstacles somehow, and we’re here, so why am I writing moralistic Quest articles?
Reed students, myself included, have managed to attain this privileged position due to a variety of institutional, familial, or social support services. Now that we’re here, we have the opportunity to provide such support to others. Students for Education, Empowerment, and Direct Service (SEEDS) maintains a variety of programs that aim to expand education accessibility and bring about larger social change in the Portland community through a variety of affiliations with nonprofit organizations. Friends of the Children, a Portland-based nonprofit, identifies youths who face high levels of adversity but lack support factors. Friends of the Children offers stability and educational support services to these underprivileged kids – one of these offerings is the opportunity to be tutored weekly by a Reed student! Committing one hour a week to tutoring on-campus could make a significant difference in someone’s ability to succeed in school.
SEEDS’ educational enterprises aren’t limited to youth. VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project empowers local immigrants and day laborers through “leadership development, organizing, and community education.” SEEDS established a partnership with VOZ in 2005, and Reed students continue to teach weekly ESL classes on-site in NE Portland. Working with VOZ not only provides access to crucial English language skills to this underrepresented population, but also affords the teachers themselves valuable interaction with a vibrant community far removed from the notorious “bubble.”
For those students who are too deep in scholastics to take on academic volunteer work, LASER mentoring program offers a more socially-oriented way to contribute: Reed students can share the resources and skills unique to our community through one-on-one mentoring relationships with students at nearby Lane Middle School. Yellow Brick Road Homeless Outreach participants volunteer from 5 to 10 p.m. once weekly distributing helpful supplies and resources to Portland’s street dependent population.
Each program requests a semester-long commitment. While putting in consistent hours to volunteer is extremely rewarding, it can also be very difficult when coping with the Reed workload. Fortunately, the Hunger and Housing Advocacy Program offers various one-time Saturday service projects in the Portland metro area. Students are free to pick and choose which projects to participate in as their workload allows – just join the SEEDS mailing list to receive information and RSVP as projects arise. Environmental service can also be performed flexibly.
Many of these programs are Federal Work Study available, and all offer us exposure to a larger community and thereby the opportunity to broaden our range of experience and understanding. Regardless of the circumstances that brought us to Reed, we all share the privileged life of students at a private American university, and each of us has the opportunity to put the resources at hand to work.