Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning with a Food Stamp Enrollment Campaign: Community and Student Benefits

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning with a Food Stamp Enrollment Campaign: Community and Student Benefits

Article excerpt

We analyze a multi-campus collaboration in a Food Stamp Enrollment Campaign to demonstrate that a well-managed public benefits campaign, associated with broader advocacy-based community partnerships, can result in positive outcomes for the community that include measurable benefits for clients, data needed to make policy and administrative changes, and new institutional relationships that enhance existing capacities. Public benefits campaigns also provide effective service-learning experiences that enhance student learning and engagement in issues related to the study of poverty, policy, and social justice. Recommendations are offered for effective implementation of such service-learning opportunities with public benefits campaigns.


This study reports on the results of a Food Stamp Enrollment Campaign, led by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger (the Coalition), staffed predominantly by service-learning and work-study students from campuses throughout the Philadelphia area. We use the outcomes of this campaign, together with an analysis of associated service-learning classroom experiences in three different disciplines on three different campuses, to demonstrate that service-learning students can play an important role in outreach campaigns that help determine client eligibility and offer application assistance for public benefits such as food stamps. Such campaigns can deliver significant, measurable benefits to targeted communities, an outcome infrequently evaluated in the service-learning literature. We provide evidence that partnerships between nonprofits, public institutions, and service-learning programs can help generate invaluable data for public benefits campaigns. These data can be used to improve campaign strategies, develop and support specific advocacy efforts to improve access to public benefits, and generate broader understanding of structural barriers for all participants, including the service-learning students. Data collection and analysis can also facilitate the development of more effective campaign strategies, the identification of structural barriers that prevent participation in such programs, and the development of proposals for policy and administrative changes to address these barriers. We conclude with a summary of how the lessons learned from the implementation of this service-learning participation in a multi-campus Food Stamp Enrollment campaign can be applied to the development of other effective higher education service-learning and public benefits campaigns linkages.

Literature Review: The Community Impact of Service-Learning

Much research on service-learning in the U.S. focuses on the impact of service-learning activities on students, both academically and developmentally (Strage, 2000, Vogelgesand & Astin, 2000). Giles and Eyler (1998), in their summary of these effects, cite research that service-learning impacts personal development including building efficacy, self-esteem, and relationships, as well as increasing social responsibility. There is also evidence that service-learning affects complexity of thinking about social issues and reflective expression, though the effect of service-learning on course grades is mixed. There is widespread agreement, however, that the impact of service-learning on the community has not been sufficiently studied (Benson, Harkavy, & Hartley, 2005; Bushouse, 2005; Cruz & Giles, 2000; Schmidt & Robby, 2000; Vernon & Ward, 1999). Giles and Eyler include community impact as one of the most important areas for future research on service-learning.

Studies of the impact of service-learning on communities focus on issues such as the nature of the partnership between universities and communities. Paradigms of service-learning differentiate the charity model from a social justice model. In the dominant paradigm, the specific service-learning opportunities offered most often represent more traditional forms of direct service or charity. …

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