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Autumn Dennis

Students from Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, Tenn., knit cozy hats and scarves for people living on the streets of Nashville, Tenn. The volunteers participate in the Pulaski Poverty Project.

United Methodist schools focus on service

A UMNS Commentary By Autumn Dennis
3:00 P.M. ET April 16, 2013 | PULASKI, Tenn.

In today's world, people constantly rush from place to place, chasing after success or just struggling to pay the bills. As people on the go, we never seem to have time to spare. In a culture that tells us always to be independent and to focus on success, such activities as community service sometimes are the first to go in our quest for time.

However, many United Methodist-related schools are leading the way in developing a new culture of service among young people.

As a student at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., I see the battle for time every day. Students rarely have enough time to eat, sleep or serve others. I especially see this conflict as the coordinator of the Pulaski Poverty Project, a student-led initiative. The goal is to engage students in learning about systemic poverty and in serving the low-income community of Giles County, Tenn.

We believe that when one learns about and sees injustice, he or she becomes responsible for using that knowledge throughout life.

What we do

The Pulaski Poverty Project's main efforts are through education nights, service events and a knitting club. On education nights, we watch documentaries, listen to speakers or discuss various aspects of systemic poverty. We have regular service events at local non-profits that relate to the local low-income community. Our knitting group creates warm hats and scarves to distribute on the streets of Nashville, 75 miles north of Pulaski.

Autumn Dennis
Autumn Dennis

We believe that through small acts of great love, students can feel ownership and creativity in how they can use their gifts to address a great need. Since September 2012, we have exceeded 650 hours of service with more than 30 volunteers.

Martin Methodist is not the only United Methodist-related college creating this culture of service.

In Tacoma, Wash., students at the University of Puget Sound confront systemic poverty through their annual Hunger and Homelessness Month and the Justice and Service in Tacoma Club (JuST), coordinated through the Office of Spirituality, Service, Social Justice.

Hunger and Homelessness Month includes speakers on systemic poverty, food drives and fundraisers for local non-profits. The JuST club discusses social justice with opportunities to engage in workshops and to serve.

'Challenge to reflect and understand'

"Students often want the easy answer to issues like hunger and poverty," said Roman Christiaens, social justice coordinator, "and they struggle to find themselves and their purpose in the rather broken world we live in.

"Oftentimes, students get involved in community service as a way to bolster their resume or for the purposes of feeling good. The opportunities for service and learning at Puget Sound challenge students to reflect and understand the identities and privileges they hold and to draw connections between those identities and why they want to be involved in service and social justice."

Martin Methodist College and the University of Puget Sound are just two of many United Methodist-related colleges creating a culture of selfless service that encourages young people to think critically about social issues and put their convictions into practice. As a student leader, my advice for other colleges and students interested in doing something to confront poverty is to see the community around you, learn what your students will commit to and go for it!

*Dennis is a freelance writer and student at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.