Community engagement clubs at Pace are hard at work this winter, growing new partnerships with nonprofit organizations all over Atlanta. Although the Community Engagement Fair looked different this year, upper school students were still able to hear about all of the new and existing clubs, as each grade had a quick assembly instead of the typical fair with tables in the gardens. In the assembly, Associate Director of the Isdell Center for Global Leadership Ted Ward, along with a few students on the Community Engagement Board, introduced the clubs and gave shoutouts to the students with the most service hours.
Mr. Ward advises the clubs and works in each school division with Pace students, families and alumni. Pace alumni have two to three community engagement events a year. “What I really like is exposing Pace students and families to different aspects of the community in Atlanta, different groups of people, and different areas of need.” said Mr. Ward. “It really helps you to expand your learning through an experiential means.”
Pace began a partnership with Trees Atlanta this year. Sophomore Oliver Loree is one of the club leaders. “I really like the idea of making Atlanta more green, and tree planting is a great way to do that,” said Loree. Trees Atlanta maintains an arboretum, or “living tree museum,” that is on the Atlanta Beltline. Pace has adopted a section of the Beltline, and there is an Atlanta Beltline community engagement group that can work with Trees Atlanta. “I’m excited for partnerships with other Pace groups like the Beltline,” said Loree.
Due to COVID-19, about 60% of Pace’s partners have postponed in person volunteering for the rest of 2020. “It allows us and forces us to be really creative,” said Mr. Ward. Some groups have done a lot more drives, like Helping Mamas club. Helping Mamas is an organization that connects mothers with mothers who need support. The club recently hosted a drive to support the Helping Mamas baby bank.
Upper school students have been working more closely with the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, with club leaders and juniors Maggie Pope and Marissa Govic. “We also reengaged with Habitat for Humanity, which is a nonprofit that builds housing,” said Mr. Ward. The Habitat for Humanity Club is led by juniors Meghna Singha and Harper White.
This year, Pace began a partnership with Lost and Found Youth, a shelter that has social services for LGBTQ+ youth facing homelessness. Lost and Found Youth operates a thrift store to raise money for the shelter, where students can go to to help them organize the thrift store. “We’re just trying to find different ways to kind of get plugged in, in a really non traditional year where in person engagement is really limited,” said Mr. Ward.
Mr. Ward believes that starting community service at Pace as early as possible will make the transition to upper school community engagement clubs easier. In the middle school, students have community service day and clean up days. “Last year, we did it more through field trips, but this year, that’s really tough,” said Mr. Ward. “One of the things that I would like to see us do more of is better connections with the middle school, so that when students walk into ninth grade, they’re more ready.”
In the lower school, each grade has a different theme, like healthcare or food insecurity. “It’s more curriculum based,” said Mr. Ward. “We teach the themes, and then we do little projects to benefit an organization that’s tied into the theme.”
The upper school Community Engagement Board oversees the clubs and plans school wide events around the theme of global health. “I love how much responsibility we have,” said senior and board member Sloan Baker. “It’s amazing to see how much progress we’ve made in such a short amount of time.” This is the first year of the Community Engagement Board, and members have been leading political engagement efforts and educating students on the general and runoff elections. Also, they are preparing the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend of Service, which will take place Jan. 15-18.
Baker encouraged other students to get involved as soon as possible. “There is always an opportunity coming up to get involved, and you just gotta go for it,” she said.
Mr. Ward has been looking into leadership positions for students within nonprofit organizations and not just within community engagement clubs. “I’d love to give students a more structured and an elongated opportunity over the summer to really work with a nonprofit and dive into that work,” he said. “By providing leadership opportunities in an internship or a mentorship with these different organizations, we can grow that capacity within our students.”
Mr. Ward encourages students to get involved in every way they can. “I could sit here and read articles about issues facing people impacted by homelessness and say, the way we fix this is to provide food and shelter, but when you actually go out there, you continue to learn what the reality is, and how we can collectively meet those needs,” said Mr. Ward. “There’s never one particular way to do it.”
Pace students have a lot to look forward to in regards to community engagement. “One of the great things that we’re able to start doing is becoming more geographically diverse,” said Mr. Ward. “I want to have a relationship or a partnership with an organization in all of Atlanta’s zip codes, and we’re getting there.”
Mr. Ward had advice for all Pace students when it comes to community engagement. “I always tell people to find things that they’re passionate about, and if you don’t know what that is, then do a million different things and find where your passion lies,” said Mr. Ward. “You can start to see yourself making a difference in that aspect of the community. You can actually kind of find what your life’s passion may be,” said Mr. Ward.
“Mr. Ward is great at allowing people to find their niche within the service world,” said Baker.