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SMC students work with homeless

Alicia Smith | Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Professor Terri Russ’ communications course at Saint Mary’s College, students have the chance to experience the classroom from a different angle. Russ and her students volunteer at the South Bend Center for the Homeless each Thursday, teaching communications skills to its guests.

The class meets twice a week, once at the College and once at the Center, and according to Russ, the guests are eager to develop skills while they transition back to society.

“Every time we go to the center, they’re really excited to see us and they’re really eager to learn and do whatever activity we have planned for the day,” junior Caroline Baumgartner said. “And they’re always talking about it.”

The students teach speaking and speech writing skills to a variety of guests, ranging from single moms to teenagers.

“Basically what we’re doing is we’re going there and teaching a class to four different groups — single moms, general communication, STAR [skilled, trained, able, and ready] programs and teens,” senior Cassie McDonagh said. “We’re teaching public speaking skills to the members of our group.”

“We each cater kind of differently to the type students we have,” she continued. “So we’re just going there every week and meeting with them and going over general public speaking skills, teaching them how to write speeches, different stuff like that.”

The course is designed to help students combine education with social justice by giving the class the opportunity to connect with the South Bend community.

Members of the class said it helped to polish their public speaking, as well a their ability to pass on their knowledge to others.

“While it helps us to give back to the community, it also helps our public speaking skills so we are all at once practicing our public speaking skills and teaching those skills to people who need to learn,” senior Mary McDougall said.

Since this is the first year for the course, students have faced some difficulties while working with the center. However, the experience so far has been beneficial for both Saint Mary’s students and the members of the classes they teach.

“I think that this is probably one of the cooler classes that I’ve ever taken just because I just feel so immersed in it and it’s not like one of those things where you memorize it the night before and then forget all about it,” McDougall said. “I find myself actually remembering the things that I am teaching to them. I think it’s something that is really different than any other class that I’m taking. I just think that I’ve learned a lot more here than I have in a lot of other classes.”