Spring Hill College Magazine
Through their participation in service through the Foley Center, three Spring Hill students find that when you help others, you also help yourself.
Phillip Travis ’16, Derrick Robbins ’17 and Brandon Myers ’18 are three young men who have much in common. All three come from humble backgrounds. All currently attend or graduated from Spring Hill College. And all have taken a leadership role in the After-School Tutoring Program for the Mobile County Public School System, one of the key programs of the Albert S. Foley, S.J. Community Service Center. But perhaps what most unites these three young men is their passion to make a difference.
In their roles as tutors and site coordinators at Elizabeth S. Chastang Middle School, each says that the students they tutor have given them as much or more than they have given, inspiring the three to discover qualities within themselves — such as leadership, responsibility, proactivity and compassion — that have the potential to leave a lasting impact.
“I saw myself in the kids and felt like I could be a role model for them. We give them inspiration,” says Travis. “Tutoring was the highlight of my day. Going to Chastang and seeing the kids and all their smiling faces — it was better than track practice to me.”
“Working with the Foley Center really sparked my passion to work with kids,” says Robbins. “I saw a lot of myself in the kids at Chastang. When they saw I came from a similar background as them, they saw me as a role model.”
“Being around those students and seeing how hard these kids had to work, it instilled in me a respect and a desire to help,” says Myers. “They give me so much more than I could ever teach them.”
Stepping Up to Serve
“When we asked Phillip to be the site coordinator at Chastang, he immediately understood that this was a place that was very special to him. Chastang is right in the heart of an inner city neighborhood that has experienced a lot of difficulties. Phillip identified with the children more strongly than anyone we’ve had there as a site coordinator, and they totally took to him. They saw him as a mentor—he saw his role that way as well,” adds Kathleen Orange, PhD, associate professor of political science at Spring Hill, guiding tour-de-force and director of the Foley Center since its founding in 1991 until August of this year.
After Travis, Robbins assumed the site coordinator leadership role, which now rests in the hands of Myers. “My experience with Phillip, Derrick and Brandon has been awesome,” says Betty Hannah, sixth grade teacher at Chastang. “We work well together, and they are some great role models for our students. They are frequently coming up with innovative ways of communicating with our students.”
Spring Hill students involved in the Foley Center outreach tutoring program work with students after school two times each week. They help the school children with homework and focus primarily on enhancing their skills in reading and math. One of the measurable goals of the program is to have each student improve one grade level in reading over the course of a year.
“The Spring Hill College tutoring program has brought a wonderful partnership to us, which has led to a positive change of perspective for our students,” says Bernard Everett, principal of Chastang. “When a college student tutors, they not only help in the academic growth of a middle school student, they become a living, breathing person that the student can look up to thereby becoming a real role model. I tutored middle school students when I was an undergraduate student. I personally know the benefits. Being an educator for 20 years, it is good to know that traditions of service, tried and true, still exist.”
“When our students struggle with reading and math, the tutors make them feel that they can climb any mountain. All it takes with our children is putting forth the effort and believing that they can do it,” Hannah adds.
Travis, Robbins and Myers started in the program as tutors, but each soon progressed to a supervisory role as the site coordinator. Site coordinators are responsible for team attendance, time sheets, materials, coordination with supervising teachers and snacks. And all three say that the experience has brought out the best in them.
“I think the leadership came out in me from my experience with the Foley Center and Spring Hill College,” says Travis. “As a site coordinator, I had more responsibility, but I always let them know I was there to listen. It was more than just tutoring.” Travis, who is from Poplarville, Mississippi, and attended Spring Hill on a track scholarship, graduated last May with a degree in mass communications. Although no longer a student at Spring Hill, he still tutors Chastang students once a week and volunteers his time to serve as a coach for track and basketball. “Giving back to children is important to me,” he added.
“In working with kids in a role of leadership, I have been able to develop myself professionally,” says Robbins, who is from Monroeville, Alabama. “I have grown as a person—I am more patient and understanding, and I feel more confident about taking on leadership positions on campus. I was able to be a resident advisor.” Robbins, who plans to graduate in May of 2017 with a degree in sociology, serves as co-chairman of the Men of Color Council (MOCC), which he helped start on the Spring Hill campus. He is also a recipient of the college’s Outreach Service Award for his work with the group in the community.
Myers, a junior majoring in mass communications, had his own experience with being tutored while in high school in New Orleans. “It instilled in me a desire to learn and help people,” he adds. “We’re there tutoring these kids and serving as mentors, but we also want them to see that college students care. And we want them to realize that college is also an option for them. I’ve learned that each individual and each kid is different. I try to connect with all of the students, as well as the teacher and principal. It’s made me a more well-rounded individual. It’s helped me as a professional. And it’s helped me spiritually.”
About the Foley Center
The Foley Center, founded in 1991 and named to honor the community service work of Rev. Albert Foley, SJ, provides Spring Hill students with opportunities to engage in community outreach, expand their awareness of social justice and open their eyes to situations of need in ways they may not have done before.
The center coordinates more than 500 Spring Hill student volunteers at 50 partner sites each semester. According to Erik Goldschmidt, PhD, director of the Foley Center, this adds up to about 25,000 hours of community service and a $575,000 investment in the community each year. “For a small college that is very significant,” says Goldschmidt, who assumed the directorship of the Foley Center in August.
Certainly, for Travis, Robbins and Myers, the Foley Center has had a profound impact on their lives. All three believe the experience will help them in their professional lives. All three express a strong desire to continue to work with children as they move forward from Spring Hill. “I see myself using my experience here as a mentor,” says Robbins. “I would love to run an organization like the Upward Bound program. I feel like that would be a great use of what I’ve learned at Spring Hill.”
And, all three say the experience has changed them for the better. “I am incredibly impressed with all three of these young men, and I think they represent the type of graduate that Spring Hill prides itself on,” says Goldschmidt. “One of them approached me about ways we can do better about bringing school students to campus—what we call our College Exposure Day. He said we’re not engaging their parents, which is a significant aspect. So we are now implementing a parent engagement component based on their insight into those kids. These young men don’t go to these schools just to tutor. They go to get to know the students — form a relationship with them, figure out what they need and then they follow through. That is leadership.”