Think beyond the tongue-twister: The Center for Civic Engagement and Learning

Cindy Tong, Contributing Reporter

The numerous service organizations and clubs on campus can seem quite overwhelming, especially to first-year students who are new to the service opportunities available at and around Case Western Reserve University. Luckily, the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning (CCEL) can equip students with an array of different volunteer opportunities that will immerse and engage them with the community.  

CCEL Coordinator Laura Bentley stated the center’s mission is “to promote meaningful community engagement through service, education which they achieve by providing and supporting opportunities for community service and collective action, while promoting civic awareness and leadership.”

According to Bentley, “CCEL was created as the Office of Student Community

Service in 1994 to provide a resource for students to get involved with the Greater Cleveland community. Over the years since then, it has evolved to continue meeting student and community partner needs and was renamed [CCEL] in 2006.”

Nowadays, the CCEL office is located in the Tinkham Veale University Center and is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is open to students, with comfortable couches and study spaces. CCEL offers many diverse programs and services that promote civil engagement.

Many new students have already become engaged with the organization through CCEL New Student Service Day. On Thursday, Aug. 23, over 600 CWRU students volunteered their time over the scope of 45 separate projects. CCEL New Student Service Day was an opportunity for incoming first-year students to volunteer both on- and off-campus and to connect with the Cleveland community. Projects included anything from gardening at CWRU’s on-campus community garden to sorting medical supplies for developing countries.

CCEL supports and organizes many other projects and programs beyond Service Day. One of them is CCEL Serves, which gives students weekly opportunities to get involved with public service. Student leaders take groups to local nonprofit sites, including “Flexible Commitment” sites, which do not require a weekly commitment, and “Semester Serves” sites, which require a semester-long commitment.  

Semester Serves has openings for tutoring youth at an affording housing community at Lifelong Learning on Tuesdays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., tutoring adults for their GED tests at the Thea Bowman Center on Tuesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and helping elementary students with soccer or creative writing at America SCORES on Thursdays from 2:30 to 4:15 p.m.

Another upcoming event is the Community Service and Internship Fair on Friday, Sept. 21, which will run from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Thwing Ballroom. Over 50 organizations will be present with information about ways to get involved in Cleveland and beyond, and there will be free pizza.

In addition to these events, CCEL provides services, such as van rentals, to be used for the purpose of civic engagement projects. The office also provides project mini-grants up to $200, which can be used toward CWRU civic engagement projects.

Perhaps the most well-known program organized by CCEL, though, is the Civic Engagement Scholars Program. Endorsed by President Barbara Snyder, the “initiative is designed to promote meaningful community engagement through service, education and reflection.”

The program is a unique opportunity for CWRU students to learn about community issues and to engage in meaningful service activities. Susan Wong, a second-year student, was a Civic Engagement Scholar last year and plans to apply again this year.

“I became a CCEL Scholar because I want to stay committed to volunteering and giving back to my community. I volunteered in high school and wanted to continue doing community service in college,” said Wong. “What I like about this program is how 50 hours is the goal, but you may go over, and there are other aspects to the program like electives and the social justice teach-ins. Besides the 20 hours at the primary site, the rest of the hours can come from any other sites, which allows volunteers to explore Cleveland and give back to their community directly.”

Natalie Yang, also a second-year student, explained why she decided to re-apply to the program this year. She said, “It’s a great opportunity for those who are passionate about volunteering and let’s us keep track of our hours.”

Other than the CCEL Civic Engagement Scholars Program, students can get involved in CCEL by being employed in the office. Second-year student Vanessa Pilatova works in the CCEL office. She chose to work for CCEL after participating in the CCEL Scholars Program.

“Because of [the CCEL Scholars Program], I got to volunteer for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. I love volunteering, so that was an awesome opportunity,” she said. “I wanted to get more involved in CCEL so I applied for this position. I dedicate a lot of my hours to CCEL, and I want to give back and help with stuff. Right now, I’m sorting through all the [first-year students] who volunteered over Orientation Week.”

Regardless of year, commitment or experience, CCEL helps students participate in its engagement opportunities.