Academics and Research / Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Students learn to be instruments of change

Human service providers and nonprofit agencies are experiencing unprecedented demand for services, and providers must work together to find new ways to meet the need, says a group of community leaders.

Governmental and nonprofit leaders from across Denver spoke with University of Denver students Jan. 7 during the first session of the winter quarter course Spectator to Citizen: Denver Urban Issues and Policy.

The course, offered by the University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), teaches students to be instruments of social change by implementing a community-organizing model that includes research and immersion.

“Community organizing has been around for many decades,” says Jenny Whitcher, CCESL associate director and course instructor. “It’s about getting students out of the ivory tower and into the community to do research, talk to people and help our communities become stronger and better.”

Forum attendees included representatives from Denver’s Road Home, the African Community Center, the Denver Office of Drug Strategy, the Front Range Economic Strategy Center and the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships, Denver City Council and the Colorado legislature.

During the informal dialogue, participants discussed their personal passions and the biggest issues and problems that they see facing the Denver community.

Issues discussed included homelessness, immigration, human trafficking, the lack of qualified addiction counselors, the availability of quality education and the difficulty in accessing social services.

All agreed that it is vital for the various nonprofits and agencies to work together and for young people to get involved.

“We are going into a time of more demand and fewer resources to help,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen, Denver’s Road Home project manager and chair of the Drug Strategy Commission. “We need to sit at the same table together and think strategically about how to operate if we don’t want people to live under bridges.”

Based on the conversation, students will select five critical issues to research over the course of the quarter. Working in groups, the students will develop and lead an issue-based, one-day Denver Urban Immersion experience that will run collectively as one full week over spring break. The immersion course will allow these students to teach other DU students what they have learned.

“The ideas that you have are ideas that might just bring people back to discussing the real issues, not just the politics,” former Colorado State Representative Alice Borodkin told the students. “You need to see how system works and learn why things do or don’t get done.”

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