Solidarity in Service Learning:
Marquette Students Connect with Youth at ONG
by Andrea Spagnoli, Student Coordinator
Since the fall of 1994, Marquette’s Service Learning Program has been organizing students to serve in solidarity with the educational nonprofit agency, Our Next Generation (ONG). ONG has been serving the youth of Washington Park neighborhood of Milwaukee for 22 years, and has made great strides in providing specialized and localized resources to those in need.
“ONG grew from realizing that the needs were great in our area,” Kayla Schultz, ONG Volunteer Coordinator said. “We’ve continued to implement programming involving staff and literacy specialists who can create curriculum to enrich the academics from our students’ school environment.”
The community surrounding ONG faces unique challenges that the organization has worked to aid and alleviate. Due to the neighborhood’s generally low socioeconomic status, high refugee population, and struggling public school systems, the volunteers and staff of ONG have created individualized events, opportunities, and workshops for children and adolescents.
“We serve our community by providing a safe and secure environment for kids to come after school,” Schultz said. “The center is more than a supportive environment, though. We provide that one-on-one relationship where kids can look forward to positive interactions with our volunteers.”
Since their formation as an after-school homework club in 1992, ONG has now expanded to include programming through students’ college years, including their High School Connection and Leadership Groups, in which Marquette service learners have had the opportunity to participate.
“[Marquette] Service Learning is integral to our organization,” Schultz said. “Marquette has let many students choose ONG as a place to serve. The Service Learners provide opportunities for our youth to see what success looks like at a young age. They’re role models who our kids look up to and relate to.”
This semester, there are 25 Marquette Service Learning students volunteering at ONG as a part of various service learning courses. Many of whom are involved in tutoring, but others serve as leaders in different programs geared towards the students and college readiness. Schultz says that the presence of service learners has bettered ONG’s efforts in many ways.
“It’s the smiling faces of young people each day that’s made all the difference,” Schultz said. “The kids that come to ONG hear all the time from adults what they should be doing. They’ve got parents, teachers, and other community members telling them how and what they should be doing. So, to have the younger generation here is highly impactful. The kids see someone who has reached success and envision themselves as that person.”Over the past 20 years, Marquette’s Service Learning Program has fostered meaningful relationships between college students and local youth. This reciprocal relationship has proven beneficial and practical for many service learners’ course work and understanding of our local community, while also furthering the educational initiatives in place at ONG.