Civic Engagement Scholars alumni impact community
Courtney Graham and Alex Moss graduated from Elon University this month having made a lasting contribution to their community while studying at Elon University. The duo are the first two alumni of Elon’s Civic Engagement Scholar program, which was designed for students looking to make a positive change by partnering with local organizations in need of assistance.
The three-year program requires a senior project for which scholars develop a relationship with a community partner. Other requirements include civic engagement courses, as well as one service-learning course chosen by the student, a service trip with the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, and 40 hours of additional community service through the Kernodle Center.
“We want it to go where the students take it,” said professor Pam Kiser, who has served as the program's interim director and worked directly with Graham and Moss. “The program is meant for students to shape their experiences. We’re looking for students to find their own voice in this.”
Graham, an exercise science major, first worked with the Haw River Trail project before transitioning to the Positive Attitude Youth Center and eventually deciding to work with Kopper Top Life Learning Center for her senior project.
“The first year or so of the program was a process of discovering what I was really passionate about and matching that up with something that was a huge need in the community,” she said. “Kopper Top was the perfect match.”
Kopper Top, a therapeutic riding center, allows people of all ages and abilities to live to their full potentialby working with animals in various capacities, Graham said. When she first started volunteering, she was responsible for what she called the “hard labor,” including cleaning stalls, building fences and clearing out trees. Eventually, she looked more into becoming involved on a systematic level.
With money available through the Civic Engagement Scholars program, Graham wrote a grant for $1,000 to allow one of the primary volunteers, Michelle Eng, to be certified through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Associated as a private riding instructor. The money went directly toward to her certification, as well as new safety stirrups to ensure riding equipment meets regulations.
“Before this grant, there was only one certified instructor on the farm, so when she was off doing other events, lessons could not take place,” Graham said. “Now, with two certified instructors, there can be lessons on the farm and off-site projects.”
As a direct result of the certification, Michelle conducts 85 percent of the horse therapy on the farm, allowing the owner to go off-site to provide services to a wider range of community members.
“Courtney showed a lot of persistence and commitment in not letting challenges along the way dissuade her,” Kiser said.
While a student at Elon, she was also involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and conducted undergraduate research into the efficacy of the WiiFit and exercise games on children. Graham will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall as she begins work toward a graduate degree in occupational therapy.
Moss, a communications science major, worked with local Head Start Preschool and Allied Churches Good Shepherd Kitchen before learning about Sustainable Alamance last semester. He said he immediately knew he had found the right program.
“I was interested in a program that focused on change in the local community,” he said. “It’s easy to forget the challenges the community faces while living in the ‘Elon bubble’ so I thought I should try to make some sort of difference locally.”
Sustainable Alamance helps people with criminal histories to seek employment opportunities, Moss said. His senior project involved maintaining a community garden started by Sustainable Alamance last year, doing everything from planting seeds to completing applications for the Green Awards contest for creativity in sustainability.
“We hope in the future to be able to sell these vegetables to also financially benefit those at Sustainable Alamance," he said. Moss also used funds available through the Civic Engagement Scholars program, writing a grant that will pay for the garden's drip irrigation system.
“It’s such a tiny organization and the director didn’t have the time needed to put into the garden,” Kiser said. “Moss can give it his full attention.”
As a student, Moss also played on the club tennis team, wrote for The Pendulum and served as treasurer for the on-campus support group called HEART, or Helping Elon Actively Remember Together, which assists students who have lost a loved one. Following graduation, he will be interning in New York.
While he is not sure what career he will eventually pursue, he said he hopes to not lose his interest in community involvement. “I have definitely found a passion for working in the nonprofit sector,” he said.
Kiser said she hopes the program has allowed students to get a deeper understanding of how to partner with people in the community.
“Every student needs to recognize that whatever they’re majoring in, it can be used for the community well-being to make a difference,” she said. “All talents are needed.”
- Written by Caitlin O'Donnell '13