Learning in Community

On any given day in Bluffton’s Learning in Community class, students could be touring the Allen County Museum, studying data sets and trends in the classroom, or volunteering at a Lima-area non-profit agency. The class introduces students to the history of Lima, Ohio, as well as the people and agencies currently working to make a difference in the community.

“We want students to see that communities matter and to know they have agency in these systems as voters, leaders and engaged citizens,” said Dr. Walt Paquin, professor of social work and community engagement coordinator for the class.

“We are also hopeful that our students will be exposed to new ways of thinking through the stories they hear from community leaders and the residents they meet at their service learning projects.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the class had been taught for its first three semesters in an ad-hoc, make-do way with students unable to volunteer in agencies or tour facilities.

“We were all excited to teach this class and then COVID hit,” explained Dr. Perry Bush, professor of history. “It’s a real morale booster to teach this course in the way we had intended.”

The need at many of the partner agencies is greater than ever. For example, the West Ohio Food Bank, which is located in Lima but covers an 11 county region, experienced a 600 percent increase in need from 2020 to 2021, according to Dena Hedrick, program and compliance manager. Administrators attribute the increase to the fallout from the pandemic.

During their first service learning experience of the semester, student volunteers at the food bank assembled more than 100 senior commodity boxes which were immediately distributed. Other students volunteered at locations such as the Lima YMCA, Head Start, Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Crime Victim Services.

David Voth ’78, executive director of Crime Victim Services, said the volunteer experience allows students to learn “first-hand how problems are addressed by nonprofits.”

“You can tell by their comments and questions that they see the value of what they are working on and that they feel good about their positive role.”

Typically taken during a student’s sophomore year, Learning in Community in the second class in the Bluffton Blueprint.

Learning in Community tour

Learning in Community service

Learning in Community presentation