Transforming South Sound’s Human Landscape

If you graduated from Evergreen in the previous century, you may not be familiar with Evergreen’s Center for Community-Based Learning and Action (CCBLA). Founded in 2004, CCBLA links Evergreen faculty and students with organizations working on a wide range of community issues.

The Center for Community Based Learning and Action

Student interns put into practice what they are learning in their academic programs and provide services requested by the hosting organizations. Many interns go on to public service careers after graduation.

CCBLA Director Walks the Talk

CCBLA Director Ellen Shortt-Sanchez, ’92, MPA ’10, epitomizes this model herself. As an Evergreen undergrad, she studied with faculty members Russ Fox and Carol Minugh, whose passion for community-based learning was infectious. Shortt-Sanchez interned in Mason County and was a work-study student at Evergreen’s former Labor Education and Research Center, where she first became interested in adult learning.

After graduation, she served as a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) member delivering literacy programs at Shelton-based Mason County Literacy (now Sound Learning). She was hooked on the work and stayed on as a full-time employee. Shortt-Sanchez built her career in literacy in a variety of settings, including Olympic College Shelton, Correctional Education at Washington Corrections Center through Centralia College, and the Shelton School District, where she coordinated Family Literacy programs.

She came upon the job posting for the director of CCBLA while researching Evergreen’s MPA program on the college website. Shortt-Sanchez said she had kept in touch with faculty members Russ Fox and Lin Nelson, who updated her on the new center’s exciting developments. Intrigued, she applied for the job, landed it, and returned to Evergreen in 2006 as director of CCBLA. She pursued her MPA a few years later.

What drew her back to Evergreen? Shortt-Sanchez recalled Lynn Busacca ’81, her VISTA field supervisor and director of literacy at Sound Learning, whose mentorship had been so influential. “In my adult literacy roles, I worked with Evergreen interns and work-study students. As CCBLA director, I hope to provide the same learning opportunities and mentorship that Lynn shared with me.”

Over the past eight years, Shortt-Sanchez and CCBLA’s staff and interns have formed partnerships with close to 100 nonprofit community organizations, many struggling with staffing and financial resources to respond to the needs of the area’s low-income and/or immigrant clients. The needs these organizations are tackling are daunting: food security, public education, access to housing, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline top a long list. CCBLA interns have made a difference. In 2013-14 alone, they volunteered 5,566 hours in action through CCBLA.

AmeriCorps Volunteers, CCBLA Fuel

Shortt-Sanchez highlighted the energy and commitment of the five 2014-15 AmeriCorps volunteers managing CCBLA’s programs and providing teaching, outreach, and coaching to South Sound communities. Brad Collins, James Hibbs, Derek Talib Williams, José Carlos Chavez, and Chanita Jackson, all 2014 Evergreen grads, will spend up to two years working at CCBLA or Gateways for Incarcerated Youth, a program housed within CCBLA. During that time, they will receive only small stipends, but on completion of their service, they’ll qualify for scholarships, tuition waivers, and awards they can use to pay off school loans or apply to graduate school expenses.

On a recent morning, the five AmeriCorps members, along with former member Jamie Alwine ’15, gathered around a large table in the CCBLA office to describe what they will be doing in the year ahead. Alwine took a break from Evergreen to complete two years of AmeriCorps service. She is enrolled in the Gateways academic program for her senior year. In her work-study job at CCBLA, she coordinates work-study student positions at community organizations.

Collins is teaching and coaching in programs designed to address youth academic and social development through Youth in Service. He is also contracted to North Thurston School District to facilitate peer-to-peer tutoring for the Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which brings an “Evergreen-like” learning model to local high schools. As a student, Collins was a tutor in the AVID program last year.

Hibbs is a VISTA food justice catalyst through Washington Campus Compact, focusing on food stability, nutrition, and sustainability. He aims to build community and campus involvement and create connections between student volunteers and area farm and food programs to break down barriers to food access. Hibbs manages the Thurston County Food Bank satellite location open to the Evergreen campus community one afternoon a week.

Williams works with Gateways as a member of Washington Campus Compact’s College Access Corps. He leads a college-readiness campaign involving coaching incarcerated students at The Green Hill School, a juvenile correctional institution in Chehalis, Wash. Williams is also

a liaison to the Gateways academic program led by Evergreen faculty member Chico Herbison. Green Hill youth can earn college credit for participating in the Evergreen-style seminars.

Chavez, another College Access Corps member, provides coaching to incarcerated Green Hill School students. “We see growth in the youth through the mentors. We find relevant Evergreen mentors with shared experiences they can relate to,” Chavez said. He and the other two

Gateways AmeriCorps members work with Gateways manager Lee Thornhill on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Forward Promise Grant serving young men of color.

Jackson, a Washington Service Corps member, is a proud graduate of Evergreen’s Tacoma Program and two-time recipient of The Evergreen

State College Foundation’s Cultural Diversity Scholarship. Through the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council, she partners with Chavez in mentor recruitment and encourages community involvement in the Gateways program. She said AmeriCorps is giving her the nonprofit organization experience she will need when she applies to graduate schools.

Alwine and Williams both described the impact of CCBLA in their lives. “I struggled as a first generation student,” Alwine said. “CCBLA connected me with students and faculty, and AmeriCorps informed my decision to continue to work with youth.”

At first Williams was skeptical about his community service opportunity at CCBLA. He said, “Where I come from, community service was punishment, just putting in the hours. I thought, ‘What has the community done for me?’ But learning is not just pen and paper. The reciprocal part of being an intern makes you feel better as a person, and can open up doors.” Shortt-Sanchez and her vast network in action has inspired him to envision creating a nonprofit in his home community someday, Williams said.

The AmeriCorps partners sitting around the table agreed that they welcome other alumni to come back to campus and support the center by helping to connect organizations and interns.

CCBLA’s interns and AmeriCorps members are changing the face of South Sound communities and in the process, being changed themselves, Shortt-Sanchez said. “Greeners participate in a cycle of contribution. Graduates are field supervisors and mentor interns who connect with their stories and pathways and find roles in community work that can launch them into a lifetime of passion to solve many of our most serious social justice problems.”

After the magazine went to press, Chanita Jackson left Gateways AmeriCorps for a full-time job opportunity.