Elmhurst in Depth

A Call for Volunteers

Students in the Niebuhr Center’s Partners for Peace program serve their neighbors in need.

The drive from Elmhurst College to the troubled neighborhoods of Chicago’s West Side takes about 20 minutes. But the Reverend Dr. Ronald K. Beauchamp knows that to some of his Elmhurst students, it can seem like a journey to another world.

That’s one reason why Beauchamp, the director of Elmhurst’s Niebuhr Center for Faith and Action, launched the Partners for Peace projects in 2009. An annual event, the project brings together students, faculty and staff from Elmhurst to serve neighbors in need. 

“The idea was to get students into the city and let them meet people, sit down with them and understand their plight,” Beauchamp said. “Our students, bless them, will go around the world to help others. But there are people a few miles away from campus who need their help, too.

”Each fall, crews of Partners for Peace volunteers make a short bus ride from campus to the city to provide that help. They work on community service projects related to gun violence, hunger, health care and other social problems. Volunteers from Elmhurst have distributed fresh produce in neighborhoods where nutritious, affordable food can be hard to find. They have worked with health care professionals to provide free health screenings. They have beautified neighborhood churches and playlots. In 2013, as part of a series of events honoring military veterans, students provided food and clothing to homeless veterans through the VietNow program. 

For all the service they provide, Beauchamp said, his Elmhurst students may reap the greatest benefits from their experiences in the city.  

“We can be so isolated in our own little worlds, but there’s no substitute for sitting down and talking with someone. There’s no better way to understand another person and that person’s needs,” he said. “Students won’t really understand the issues connected to health care until they talk with someone who can’t get access to health care. Service is one way for them to learn about themselves and about their world.” 

When the Niebuhr Center launched Partners for Peace five years ago, Beauchamp wondered if the campus community would respond to the call for volunteers. He need not have wondered. Student interest in Partners for Peace events has been so strong that planners have sometimes had to expand the original scope of the projects to accommodate all the volunteers. The Niebuhr Center teams with a number of student groups and college departments on the Partsners for Peace events, including the Student Nurses Association; the Office of Leadership, Service and Civic Engagement; the Wellness Center; the Black Student Union; H.A.B.L.A.M.O.S.; the Muslim Student Association; the Chaplain’s Office; and the College’s Jazz Band. The center also partners with local churches.

Beauchamp says that one of his biggest concerns now is responding to all the offers to help. It is a good problem to have.

“Everywhere I go, people want to know when the next event is, and what they can do to help,” he said. “That’s the giving spirit that has made the program so successful and that is so critical to what we are trying to achieve as a college.”

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