Sophomore uses award to advocate for child victims

They come to the center from the streets, broken homes and jails where they served time with adults. Dozens of Filipino boys, victims of sexual abuse, seek refuge each year at the Stairway Foundation south of Manila – a place where sophomore Meagan Harrison last summer spent two months volunteering through Elon University’s Ward Family Learning in Action Award.

Elon University sophomore Meagan Harrison

Recipient of the 2009 honor, Harrison traveled to the Philippines to produce and develop print materials, a movie trailer, and other multimedia for children’s rights advocacy, community education, and outreach that the Stairway Foundation performs.

The Ward Award, coupled with the Carole and Douglas Bruns Endowment for International Service Learning, helped fund her service and research experience at the Foundation. Workers assist boys from 9-14 and offer them residential, psychological and educational rehabilitation at their complex on the beaches of Mindoro Island.

The native of Kinnelon, N.J., learned of the Foundation through a friend who attended school in the Philippines and volunteered with Stairway. What Harrison discovered shocked her: Sex trafficking, sex tourism and family abuse was common. “It’s a real big mess,” said the human services studies and strategic communications double major.

The boys at Stairway make jewelry and crafts and weave baskets, which they later sell at conferences, to help with therapy. The goal of the projects, Harrison said, is to encourage the boys to share their experiences. “They know that what happened to them is wrong,” she said. “They know that it feels bad. They know they don’t like it.”

Harrison organized information packets on each American city that Foundation leaders plan to visit for a U.S. tour in 2010. The packets included legislation on human trafficking, prevalence, key figures in politics and potential partners, and possible venues for events. Harrison also took photos for the Stairway Foundation using equipment purchased through her grants.

“She has a true passion for international human services work and boundless energy,” said Kristen Sullivan, an assistant professor of human services studies. “Her experiences as Stairway were very meaningful to her, and I know they benefitted from her contributions. It’s exciting to see her international research ideas develop and I’m looking forward to seeing where her research leads her and to be part of that process.”

The Ward Family Learning in Action Award is presented annually to a rising sophomore, junior or senior to support an experiential learning project that may include, but is not limited to, international study, undergraduate research, internships, service or leadership experiences. The award consists of a cash prize of $3,000 to support the project.

The scholarship is funded by a $110,000 gift by the Ward family of Baltimore. Tom and Beth Ward, their sons, A.T. ’05, Christopher ’08 and Chase, and Tom Ward’s mother, Dorothy Mears Ward, worked together to determine what the awards would honor and the characteristics the recipients should exemplify.

Harrison developed her interest in service through her involvement with her church and following family outings to ski, whitewater raft and hike. “My dad used to take us to do fun things, but they were more than fun,” Harrison said. “They helped me grow, with leadership skills and self-confidence.”

During her regular semesters, Harrison works for a nonprofit retreat program she co-founded in Durham. OASIS: Outdoor Action for Social and Intrapersonal Strength, recruits college students from Elon, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill to serve as counselors and leaders for students at the Durham Nativity School, an extended day charter school.

At Elon, Harrison is involved in the Public Relations Student Society of America, the Human Services Society, and the La Casa Living Learning Community.

For more information on the Ward Family Learning in Action Award and how to apply for the 2010 scholarship, contact the Office of the Vice President of Student Life in Alamance 109 by calling x7220.

The deadline for applications is Feb. 26.