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IU Northwest sets bar for universities as community stewards

Camp New Happenings is one shining example of how students, faculty optimize resources to bolster communities

Thursday Feb 06, 2014

Universities have a plethora of expertise and resources at their fingertips. Academic research. Professional experience. Educated and ambitious students and faculty with connections, and the desire, to move things forward.

But how many universities truly use such resources to their fullest capacity? Such vast intellectual capital seems underutilized if used solely for the purpose of educating students and furthering the academic prestige of its faculty.

Indiana University Northwest leaders believe the campus has a responsibility to share its resources for the broadest benefit possible. Community engagement, in order to “advance the social, economic and civic health of the region,” is a cornerstone of the Northwest campus’s mission.

During the 2012-13 academic year, more than 2,100 students, under the direction of 66 faculty members, contributed more than 126,000 hours of community-based service.

The statistics alone are impressive; one-third of the IU Northwest student body was engaged in service during the last academic year. But, it’s the personal stories and volunteer accounts where the community impact of such activities are fully realized.

Take Camp New Happenings for example.

This summer camp, for youth ages 8 to 12 who are experiencing parental incarceration, is an endeavor of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana. Three years ago, IU Northwest got involved when a social work student wanted to serve as a camp counselor to add-on to her internship experience. Today, a growing number of IU Northwest students, from an array of disciplines, continue to volunteer at the camp.

IU Northwest’s involvement with Camp New Happenings serves as one shining example of what the university is accomplishing with its community focus. It weaves a story about the various benefits of collaboration and engagement across very different groups of people.

There’s the student who gains experiential learning at its best. The faculty member who benefits professionally by sharing his or her expertise and reciprocally-beneficial research. And the camp itself, which gets capacity-building support from students and faculty for its professional operation.

Most importantly, the larger community gains a positive influence for its youth, and the benefits for the campers, children of incarcerated parents, are almost too numerous to mention.

Cassandra Kormendy of Lowell, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in social work, served as a Camp New Happenings counselor as part of an internship last summer. The payoff for her education was huge.

“I was around my clients, essentially, the children, 24 hours a day,” she explained. “We did everything together. Every bump in the road, every tear, we were together. It was definitely a different experience that I would not have gotten anywhere else. And it helped me realize that I really want to work with either this population, or a similar population.

“I think every social worker should choose to go into a situation like this where you have to live with your clients,” Kormendy said. “It really engulfs you in the entire world of social work. You are there in the moment at all times and you always have to be professional and understanding.”

The experience also made Kormendy acutely aware of the impact she can have on one individual, something she said she tends to forget because she is so focused on community action as a whole.

“One little girl, she wrote about me and how (meeting me at the camp) really changed her life,” Kormendy said, through tears. “Hearing her story was really hard when she told me and she said she had never really opened up to many counselors. … When she left, she told me she would never forget me. … I just listened to her and I don’t know what I did that was so special, but we really had a connection.”

Jennifer Anderson, field coordinator for the graduate and undergraduate social work programs, works to bring internships and opportunities like this to her social work students. She also specializes in interprofessional education, in which students learn to collaborate across disciplines.

“This is classroom content put into motion,” Anderson said. “No matter what field you are in, there is a place at this camp in which you can contribute.”

The IU Northwest camp counselors represented students from the social work, nursing, criminal justice and psychology fields. Anderson said that she intentionally brought in students from other disciplines that have a professional touchstone with at-risk or vulnerable youth.

That is where the Student African-American Brotherhood (SAAB) group came in. SAAB is an IU Northwest organization comprised of primarily male students who strive for academic excellence and make a commitment to plan and implement programs that benefit their community at large.

SAAB members David Neal, who studies criminal justice, and Mike McCoy, who studies psychology, made a rare impression on the campers.

The campers saw firsthand that young African-American men from urban neighborhoods like theirs could go to college and be successful. Kormendy overheard conversations between the young men and their campers that really moved her.

“I heard them sit and talk about college,” she recalled. “They embraced that. They said, ‘You’re in college and I can do this too?’ They never had an actual black camp counselor that went to college and was volunteering on behalf of IU Northwest. The black children really embraced that. They loved that idea … It inspired them that they could go to college too.”

Charlotte Strowhorn, founder and director of Camp New Happenings, said IU Northwest’s contribution has been invaluable. She particularly appreciates the continuing consultation, advice and recommendations the camp received through the eyes of social workers and educators.

“The on-site participation of students as camp counselors is a big plus,” she added. “Their participation benefitted both the students and the camp.”

The next session of Camp New Happenings is set for July 12-19, 2014. Students, from any academic discipline, who would like to apply for a camp counselor position may contact Anderson at (219) 981-4201 or

“A lot of these kids from the camp are from the Gary area,” Kormendy said. “It’s really important for IU Northwest to reach out to its own community and this is such a positive way of doing that.”

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