GC Students Volunteer at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center
Persuading sports-minded students from East St. Louis Senior High School to study for the ACT exam after a full day at school may seem a “hard sell,” but Rachael Allaman and more than a dozen other Greenville College students find ways to make the test preparation appealing. Each week, they set up shop in the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis to coach student-athletes for the exam that will determine their eligibility for college and scholarships.
After a recent study session, Rachael and her fellow tutors engaged in friendly banter with members of the men’s track team. “Out of the blue, one of the boys looked me in the eye and said, ‘We really appreciate you guys coming here to help us out.’ I was so happy to hear that they actually enjoy the work we do with them and see value in it,” she said.
Professor Teresa Holden and a contingent of students from the College travel a well-worn path between campus and East St. Louis several days each week. Some, like Rachael, assist high school students with ACT preparation. Others facilitate fun and games with children at the Christian Activity Center where they also assist with homework. The activities at both locations are part of Connect 4, GC’s outreach to youth in the East St. Louis community.
While focus on academic success is central to Connect 4’s purpose, building relationships plays a key role in making that happen. In her third year as a Connect 4 volunteer, Rachael has engaged in many conversations with young people at the Center. “Regardless of their home life, the students know that someone cares for them because we communicate this each time we interact with them,” she said.
Rachael refers to Earl, whose boyish looks gave way over the summer to a slender, more mature version of the student she remembered from last spring. She shared her pleasure over Earl, now a member of the wrestling team, continuing to express excitement over reconnecting with the college students. “I know more than just Earl's academic ability,” she explains. “I know what he likes to do for fun, what he likes to eat and what jokes he will laugh at.” That familiarity goes far when it comes to discovering ways that will help Earl succeed.
Connect 4 was the brainchild of GC students in 2009 as their COR 401 senior capstone project. Though members of the initial Connect 4 group graduated and moved on, Professor Holden and subsequent students have kept up the work.
“At present, the Center is tied in mostly with sports teams from the East St. Louis schools who use its facilities,” Holden explains. “We coordinate with the coaches from these teams to set up the programs we provide.” Members of this year’s Connect 4 group began the semester working with middle school wrestlers and then added high school wrestlers with the start of the high school wrestling season. In October, they welcomed members of the men’s and women’s track teams. “A lively bunch,” observes Rachael, “and truly a joy to work with.”
For more information about Connect 4, contact Professor Teresa Holden, 618-567-7929, [email protected].