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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

D.C. Diary Common ground

Comments jump across the room as hands eagerly wave awaiting their turn. Twenty-six students vie for a chance to jump into the conversation. Each of them offers a unique opinion at the U-shaped arrangement of tables. Some dominate the conversation, while others seem to wait for hours before their voices are heard.

It is a Friday afternoon and the GW and Howard University AmeriCorps volunteers are gathering, as they do every week, to share the problems and triumphs they face working in the field. Today they are trying to figure out what to do when the community that they are trying to help doesn’t want them there. Or when there’s work to be done, but community members are weary of outside help.

Throughout the year, the student members of the national service group work at different sites throughout the urban Shaw community in central D.C. Working in pairs or alone, their missions range from establishing a tutoring program at a local elementary school to helping the homeless at Martha’s Kitchen. At the Northwest Settlement House, they care for women and their babies, while at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, they inform women about HIV tests, female condoms and the AIDS virus.

Their work at the sites is intensive. Members spend about 20 hours per week at their sites, and in addition to their volunteering, they also recruit and train other students to volunteer a few hours a week.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s incredibly rewarding,” says Melinda Pollack, the coordinator of GW’s Neighbors’ Project. “Not only do you learn from the community but also from other members (of the program).”

GW and Howard AmeriCorps members, who work together at sites throughout the city, say their alliance has several benefits. GW students live in the Foggy Bottom area while volunteering their time in the typically lower-income neighborhood of Shaw. Howard University is a primarily African-American university, located in the Shaw community. The partnership between the schools, now in its third year, is the result of a grant from the Corporation for National Service.

“Our teamwork (with Howard) is important,” says GW junior Alyssa Hershberger, who works at For the Love of Children Neighborhood Tutoring Program. “They’re helping us by bringing us in. If they accept us, then it helps the community accept us,” says Hershberger.

Through their work together, the group has formed a tight-knit bond.

“We’re a family,” says Howard student Rachel Hunt. “It’s not about being a GW student or a Howard student, but how we’re all making a difference.”

Hunt volunteers at the Community Alliance for Youth Action, working with high school students, and coordinates alternative-to-violence programs. “My biggest job is helping them make a change within their lives, not only academic, but personally and socially,” she says.

Junior GW student Shafkat Anwar agrees.

“The attitude is not to go out (to a site) and think that you’re going to change the community, but to let them change you,” he says.

These group reflections are essential, because a large focus of AmeriCorps is on the partnership and exploration of oneself, members say.

“By talking and meditating on what it means to be a member of the national organization, how an individual is assisting a community, how the community is shaping the individual as well, AmeriCorps volunteers learn about themselves,” says Pollack.

By the end of the session, reactions are mixed. There is no definitive outcome. Members leave the meeting, still pondering the issues in their minds. They leave to face another week.

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