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Spring Hill College Magazine

Teaching Community-Engaged Learning for 25 Years

By Ashley Rains | Photos by Dan Anderson ‘03, James Fulcher AND Seth Laubinger ‘02

“People are our textbooks” was a favorite and frequent phrase heard from Rev. Albert S. Foley, SJ, who positively altered Spring Hill College history from the time he first arrived on campus in the late 1930s. The Foley Community Service Center, which bears his name, is celebrating 25 years of coordinating social justice outreach and community service in the Mobile area community.

The Foley Community Service Center, formally dedicated in 1992 by then-President Rev. William J. Rewak, SJ, seeks to realize the mission of Spring Hill College, which is forming leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice and service for life. Through the Center, students engage with more than 50 community partners to provide services that range from tutoring to care for senior adults and those with special needs to adult education in GED or English as a second language (ESL) training. During the 2016-17 academic year, 556 Spring Hill students completed more than 27,000 hours of service work through the Foley Center.

Foley was ahead of his time in his educational approach to service learning. He believed in community-engaged learning, that is, students’ formation of attitudes, beliefs and skills develop through authentic interactions with others. His method for getting to know someone who was different than himself was to work to see the world from their perspective. In the 1940s, Foley was assigned to teach a class called “Migration, Immigration and Race,” whose readings, discussions and debates moved him to take a more active role in relation to segregation in the United States. In her thesis, “The Tragedy of the White Moderate: Father Albert Foley and Alabama Civil Rights, 1963-1967,” Carol Ellis writes, “From that time forward, no matter what province Foley’s superiors assigned him, he founded and joined organizations dedicated to educating others about working towards racial tolerance.”

After leaving to study for and finish his doctorate in Sociology, Foley returned to Spring Hill College in 1953 to teach coursework in that field. He became the Chairman of both the Mobile chapter of the Alabama Council on Human Relations, which he helped found and would later serve as President, and the Alabama Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission. In this capacity, Foley authored ordinances for Mobile, which would be adopted into law. These laws banned law enforcement officers from Ku Klux Klan membership and made “Intimidation by Exhibit,” or cross-burning, illegal. Foley maintained a respectful relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. who, along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy, called Foley to the platform to sit with them during a mass meeting at 16th Street Baptist Church just a few months before its infamous bombing.

Foley went on to conduct race relations workshops for teachers, law enforcement and civic and business leaders through the Job Partnership Training Act. He continued those efforts in his classroom and on campus, founding the Human Relations Center in Murray Hall. In December 1990, Foley died of a stroke and was buried on campus in the Jesuit Cemetery. Rewak, who had a strong interest in community involvement on the part of colleges and universities, asked Kathleen Orange, PhD, Professor of Political Science and Law, to develop a program to carry on the thrust of Foley’s work. In 1992, Orange introduced the Foley Community Service Center to the community and Spring Hill students began leaving their mark as men and women in service of others.

Travis Cummings ‘17 (far right) instructed students from Blount High School about journalism and communications. This class was part of the College Exposure Day program.
Travis Cummings ‘17 (far right) instructed students from Blount High School about journalism and communications. This class was part of the College Exposure Day program.

Orange is largely credited with developing service learning as part of the Jesuit education a Spring Hill College student receives during his or her tenure. “Service learning integrates service to the community with classroom learning in such a way that the needs of the community are met and the course content is brought alive by experience in the community,” she said. “It should make students more aware of the needs of their community, their ability to serve them and the way in which their academic learning enriches their understanding of the actual world in which they live.”

During the Center’s development, Orange created partnerships with Mobile nonprofit agencies in areas such as after-school programs, tutoring and mentoring, elderly care, special needs and health services. She says it has always been a top priority that students have direct, regular contact with the clients or students each agency serves. “Our students become committed to service because they come to care deeply about the people they serve. That happens when they come to work with them on a sustained basis.”

Joanna Buscemi ’05, a Psychology and Hispanic Studies double major, was naturally drawn to the ESL program at the Foley Center. “Now that I’m a psychologist, researcher and professor at DePaul University, I realize that these initial experiences teaching ESL at SHC cemented my desire to pursue a career in academia and a research career focused on reducing health disparities among the underserved.”

In 2016, Orange retired as the founding director of the Foley Center, having formed the outcomes of more than 2,000 students – 80 to 100 per year – during her term. Erik Goldschmidt, PhD, has served as Director of the Center since Orange’s return to the classroom. Goldschmidt came to Spring Hill from Boston College, where he was director of The Church in the 21st Century (C21) Center, a catalyst and resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

Arielle Joseph ‘18 (left) assisted at the L’Arche Mobile annual retreat held at Stewartfield. Foley Center students volunteer weekly in the L’Arche Activities Center as well as in homes.
Arielle Joseph ‘18 (left) assisted at the L’Arche Mobile annual retreat held at Stewartfield. Foley Center students volunteer weekly in the L’Arche Activities Center as well as in homes.

Today, the goals of the Foley Center are to support the formation of students as leaders of justice and service through direct and sustained service, to assist faculty with integrating service learning into their courses and to optimize support for local nonprofit service providers. “Our Jesuit, Catholic mission compels us to meet people on the margins in a spirit of solidarity,” says Goldschmidt. “This is what makes for a truly transformative education.”

For years to come, Spring Hill College students will continue to have their lives shaped by their work through the Foley Center thanks to a priest who was ahead of his time in advocating for service learning, who was not afraid to challenge the status quo and who found transformative motivation in the ability to read people.

Follow The Foley Community Service Center on Facebook.

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