Learn and Serve grant helps students make a difference


Learn & Serve
Learn and Serve volunteers provided health information to the more than 500 attendees of the Boy Scout Centennial Celebration in January 2010. Here, fourth-year medical student Linda Sinclair chats with scouts about tick-borne diseases.

Through support provided from a single, small grant, UMass Worcester students are expanding current learning opportunities to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of their local community. They are helping foreign refugees assimilate to life in Worcester, teaching at-risk kids healthy lifestyle habits and tutoring immigrant students so they don’t fall behind in school, to name a few recent projects.

The Building on the Promise: Learn and Serve UMass grant, funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve Program, is a three-year initiative of the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts. The primary goal of the grant is to facilitate service and service-learning opportunities for UMass students.

Now in its second year, the grant is coordinated at UMMS by Heather-Lyn Haley, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health and medicine. Dr. Haley helps make connections between students who are interested in finding service opportunities and agencies that are in need of volunteers. “Many of our students—in all three schools—are already actively investing time and energy to create healthy communities here in the city where they live, study and work. Building on the Promise: Learn and Serve UMass allows us to support those investments, and help these students expand their impact by involving others through service and service-learning.”

In its first year of funding, the initiative at UMMS supported student liaisons who organized and staffed health information and community outreach tables at local events attended by more than 500 people; coordinated UMass Worcester student and faculty volunteers for the United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where they helped with tax preparation and provided information about free medical care; helped prepare students to administer vaccines at the annual Community Immunity event sponsored by the Worcester Department of Public Health; and facilitated student participation in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Audio Journal.

The grant also fosters collaboration across the five UMass campuses. Haley and UMMS principal investigator Suzanne Cashman, ScD, professor of family medicine & community health, meet monthly with their Learn and Serve counterparts at the other four campuses. Through this regular contact, they have been able to develop new cross-campus initiatives, particularly opportunities for UMass students system-wide. Currently they are working on developing alternative spring break opportunities that will allow students from any UMass campus to participate in service programs near their homes.

“For example, say that a UMass Amherst student lives in Worcester and is home on break. That student would be able to take part in the local alternative spring break coordinated by UMass Worcester,” said Haley. “We’re trying to find a way for students to be part of a meaningful spring break experience even when they’re not traveling to different parts of the world.”

In addition to strengthening partnerships among the five UMass campuses, the grant serves to build and strengthen relationships between UMass Worcester and other local colleges. Haley meets regularly with colleagues from the Colleges of the Worcester Consortium to maximize opportunities to collaborate on service and service-learning projects in the community.

One such example is flourishing at the Great Brook Valley housing development in Worcester, where students from the School of Medicine are partnering with students from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to staff an after school program for at-risk teens. The Center for Healthy Living, founded by UMMS medical students and revitalized by current fourth-year student Tom Peteet in 2008, offers after school programs on nutrition and exercise as well as tutoring, mentoring and enrichment. The program is staffed two afternoons a week, with UMMS students coordinating activities on Mondays and MCPHS students taking the lead on Tuesdays.

Upcoming Learn and Serve projects being considered are a five-campus day of service in the grant’s third year and a UMMS mini-grant program that will coincide with next year’s MLK Day celebration.

Students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about the Learn and Serve grant should contact Haley at heather-lyn.haley@umassmed.edu or 774-441-6366. They also have a Facebook page.