In a given year, CELTS employs approximately 70 students in primary labor positions. Here the student labor staff for the 2017-18 academic year gathered outside the CELTS office space in the Stephenson Building.

Group of Bonner Scholar students working in Louisville.
Bonner Scholars “dig in” on their spring break service trip, during which they served with several organizations in Louisville that primarily work with refugees and immigrants.

The Center for Excellence in Learning through Service envisions an educational system that successfully combines community service with academic learning. Berea College students work with the community through CELTS in two ways: through volunteering, which is co-curricular, and through academic service-learning, which is part of a course requirement. In addition, students hold labor positions coordinating CELTS community service and service-learning
programming, thereby facilitating opportunities for other students to serve.

Students for Appalachia, which was the umbrella organization for many of the programs now referred to as CELTS, started in 1968. The CELTS center was founded in 2000 as a result of Berea College’s strategic planning process, and it was charged with bringing together in one center all of the community service programs that were being operated out of different areas on campus. Ashley Cochrane, director of CELTS, Service Learning and the Bonner Scholars program, explains that all students involved with CELTS learn through their community-based service activities. Integral to that learning is reflection, through which students draw connections among their service activities, their academic studies and their personal development as leaders and engaged community members.

When students begin volunteering with CELTS, they are mentored and trained by other students who have experience working for CELTS to develop the skills necessary to effectively serve the community in partnership with community-based organizations. Recent graduate Kyree Hobson ’18, served as a student leader for CELTS. She entered through Bonner Scholars, a four-year program for college students who want to focus on service activities while earning their undergraduate degree. “CELTS is important for students who want service to be an integral part of their college experience,” Hobson said. “You get to talk about why that service is necessary, and how your role and identity impact the community. It’s more than doing service work; you get to explore your own passion and interests.” Hobson’s work primarily focused on training future CELTS leaders.

CELTS students preparing sack lunches
CELTS students preparing sack lunches to be distributed by an organization in Lexington that serves homeless individuals.

“My work with CELTS taught me a lot about the importance of prioritizing learning—learning about the individuals, communities or causes I serve; learning about the systems that create or reinforce inequity; and learning about myself as an individual, as a professional and as a service-oriented team member,” Hobson said. In providing service off campus, CELTS makes use of the expertise of students with different majors. Cochrane explained that students who volunteer or work with CELTS have majors ranging from education to business. “Students choose a service path that complements what they are learning at Berea College,” Cochrane said.
“They take those skills and passions and immerse themselves in serving the community.” When students volunteer with CELTS, they are asked to make a commitment for at least one semester. This consistency helps develop service relationships between the student and the partner organizations that allow for greater community impact.

CELTS is primarily designed to provide opportunities for Berea College students, but there are some ways for faculty and staff to get involved. CELTS offers professional development opportunities for faculty and staff through workshops or discussions each semester, and also through an intensive weeklong service-learning course design seminar. Faculty come to the seminar to learn ways they can integrate service-learning components into their classes. Berea College has a long history of service. This is reflected in the College’s long-term commitment to offering an education that integrates learning, labor and service. CELTS is able to provide a network of support and resources for the College, and also serves as a common meeting place for those involved with Berea’s service-related activities.
“Students embody the service mission of the College through their work with CELTS,” Cochrane said. “A spirit of service runs throughout all eight of the College’s Great Commitments.”

Serving Berea and Beyond

CELTS provides a network of support and resources. It also serves as a common meeting place for those involved with Berea’s service-related activities. Opportunities for service, outreach and service-learning facilitated by CELTS take place in the immediate Berea/Madison County community, the larger Appalachian region and at sites throughout the United States and the world.

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