What makes for strong university-community relationships? How can students “give back” as collaborators not would-be saviors? What are some specific service opportunities that will welcome students who are new to Atlanta/have no prior experience?

The one-credit course “Engaging Global Communities” explores the above questions through a class that brings together students from Emory, Morehouse, and Georgia Tech, with three Clarkston based community partners—Re’Generation Movement, Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s ESL Program, and the Clarkston Community Center (CCC)—for class sessions with instructors/guest lecturers from five metro Atlanta universities.  I co-lead the course with  Johannes Kleiner (Associate Director of Civic and Community Engagement, Emory) and Philip Ojo (Professor of French, Agnes Scott).  Recently, CCC Director of Education and Programs Amber McCorkle invited students to serve with staff and volunteers at the Clarkston Community Center’s Food Pantry Saturday (it occurs on the first Saturday of the month; more information on how to sign up can be found here!). Ms. McCorkle has visited the course three times and familiarized the students with her work and that of CCC.  She shared with them that serving together and building relationships is what CCC welcomes, rather than dropping in as one-time “tourists” of the Clarkston community and its residents.  

The CCC’s pantry provides food to families from across the county, including recently-arrived refugee families living in and near the city of Clarkston. INTA major Janet Arvizu-Garcia (2025) and ID major Sophia DeLurgio (2022) joined me on the first Saturday in March to support the wonderful work of the CCC’s Food Pantry. Janet and Sophia—like many Georgia Tech students—embody the spirit of “Progress and Service.”  Service work was a significant part of their high school experiences, and so rising early on a weekend to volunteer was nothing new for either Janet or Sophia—but they both shared that the morning at CCC was unique. From hearing other volunteers conversing easily in Farsi with newly arrived families from Afghanistan to hauling boxes brimming with diapers and wipes ready for families of nine and ten, we were each struck by the fact that work that CCC does for the population mirrors the courage and resolve of the families themselves, some of whom don’t yet have identification cards or permanent addresses. Guided by CCC staff members Eric Williams and Sayed Mohammad Musa—whose patience and generosity were boundless, volunteers were tasked with sorting and packing food, organizing clothing donations, taking the information of families as they arrived, and loading food and clothing into cars (or arms and hands!).  Sophia practiced her Spanish while talking with arriving families, and Janet worked in syncopation with her fellow pantry volunteers sorting and hauling food.  Below, both share some reflections about the morning.

Janet: I've volunteered at food drives before, but this experience was as if I had started all over again. Given the fact that most people were of diverse backgrounds, we had to be very careful with our actions. We couldn't have food on the ground, had to carefully select food items due to dietary restrictions, and had to adapt to the language barrier. But overall, seeing people get together to serve such a diverse community creates more awareness [of] areas that tend to be overlooked. 

Sophia: Helping run a food and clothing drive was an opportunity to think about problems like poor access to healthy food and comfortable clothing outside of my own academic and career stresses. Communicating with recent immigrants from countries all over the world reminded me of how small my university and social bubble tend to be.  It was encouraging to see a diverse group of teenagers, college students, parents, and more team up for a shared goal. Service days like this one keep me feeling uplifted about the effort and good intention all sorts of people have.

In April a cadre of Emory students accompanied by Johannes Kleiner will get this neat opportunity to learn about the work of CCC and spend a serving and sharing in the richness of Clarkston’s cultural diversity and its collaborative spirit. This summer, five students in the course will intern with CCC, Re’Generation Movement, and the Georgia Piedmont Technical College ESL Program under the auspices of the Global Communities Internship Program (GCIP), funded by the Atlanta Global Research and Education Collaborative. The five student interns of GCIP will join the full cohort of interns in Serve-Learn-Sustain’s Sustainable Communities Internship Program and will, through the weekly summer seminar meetings, share their experiences and lessons with interns from a diverse range of community organizations and nonprofits working at the intersection of equity, social innovation, and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

To learn more about the Global Communities Internship Program, or any programming associated with Serve-Learn-Sustain, please don’t hesitate to reach out: ruth.yow@gatech.edu.