Local organization calls on students

By ROSS LINKER | October 3, 2007

For 14 years, the Students Sharing Coalition has worked to lower societal boundaries and improve people's lives in Baltimore. The Coalition, which recruits Hopkins students, is centered in Charles Village.

The Coalition's first triumphs were moderate. In 1996, it started the Kids Teaching Kids program, and in 1998 it founded Operation AWARE, which aims to involve middle school students in civil services. These early accomplishments paved the way for the Coalition's more major events.

In 2003, during the Halloween for Hunger food drive, the Coalition gathered more than 2000 pounds of food. The coalition also holds an annual Spaghetti Dinner for the Homeless and the First Annual Lobby Day in Annapolis.

In 1997, the governor's Office of Service and Volunteerism selected the Coalition as a model community improvement organization due to the group's efforts in bettering the city and its youth.

The spring of 2004 brought even more honors to the Students Sharing Coalition when the Maryland Student Service Alliance and the State Superintendent of Schools honored the Students Sharing Coalition with the Community Organization Service-Learning Leadership Award.

"It's got a lot of vision," said Linda Federico Kohler, Executive Director and Founder, of the program.

The Coalition began in 1993 as a small community service organization aimed at multi-cultural, urban youth.

At the start, only Federico Kohler and Hopkins interns ran it. Ultimately the program wished to educate city students in order to make them more culturally accepting and upstanding urban citizens.

"Our mission is to provide meaningful service and civic engagement experiences to students from diverse backgrounds with the goal of developing these students into mature and knowledgeable citizens, who take responsibility for their communities and are committed to social justice."

"[The Coalition] wants to build the next generation of civic leaders," Federico Kohler said. "We train [the students] to affect change."

The program hopes to accomplish several primary goals: Perform community services that both better the urban environment and its youth; aid students in voicing their opinions; remove the racial, cultural and social obstacles that students face; and help participants assert their identities within the community.

In order to achieve its goals, the Coalition focuses on participant experience.

Participants engage in new experiences in order to broaden their views of the world and benefit their communities. According to the Coalition, the program is founded on three types of achievement: Academic preparation, community action and structured reflection.

Academic preparation means having a better understanding of Baltimore's, and, on the whole, America's, urban socio-economic climate. Coalition members teach lessons and lead discussions on a broad set of issues, one of which is urban poverty.

Coalition members achieve community action through their efforts to change the lives of those less fortunate and assist the struggling urban communities within Baltimore. This aspect of the program uses charity functions to teach participants the value of community service. Activities include feeding the homeless and holding monthly donation drives, but participants are strongly encouraged to pursue their own social service initiatives within their own areas.

Structured reflection is the Coalition's most obscure aspect of their three-pronged method of societal reform. However, according to the Coalition, "Reflection is a crucial component of the community-service learning experience."

By having reflective sessions, student participants are able to observe the impact of their work and better understand the effects they have on their communities.

Reflection also serves to ingrain the lessons of the service in the minds of participants.

The program believes that such reinforcement will serve to enhance participants' desires to better their communities instead of engaging in unhealthy activities.

According to Federico Kohler, the Coalition hopes to continue expanding and helping urban youth throughout Baltimore.

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