While many students use spring break as a time to travel, refocus and re-energize, few are the ones who give back to the community with their time.
Illinois State University’s Chanel Howard is just that type of student and came back to sow this seed.
“Chanel is a natural,” said Lamar Taylor, a Breakthrough Urban Ministries staff member who welcomed Howard to his classroom. “She jumped right in and connected with students, played games, asked questions and laughed with them. The young ladies were happy to see her.”
As part of an urban redesigned course offered by Dr. Lucille Eckrich from Illinois State’s College of Education, Howard and her classmates participated in a clinical visit to Chicago and observed at Al Raby High School in the East Garfield Park community. After a day of observation in the school, her group proceeded to volunteer at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a nonprofit social service agency offering youth programs to students from Chicago’s west side.
It was during this service learning experience that Howard first connected with a student and began building a relationship with her, which compelled her to return again.
“My motivation to teach in an urban community stems from my passion for empowering and uplifting others,” Howard said.
“I want my students to feel inspired and motivated to reach their dreams and to know I am there to support their dreams and aspirations. I also want to instill the concept that through hard work and education, their goals can be accomplished. As a woman of color, I want students to be able identify with me and to see that I am a testament of what they can become,” she continued.
Howard recalled an experience that motivated her to volunteer at Breakthrough—a connection she made with a girl she met on the day she volunteered on the trip.
“She took a great interest in me and was close by the entire time I was there. While I helped her with her homework we laughed, talked and enjoyed each other’s company. As the day was coming to a close she asked me would I be back, and as I explained to her that I was volunteering only for a day and that she may not see me again, she appeared saddened. At that point I recognized that my presence had made an impact on her,” Howard said.
“I was completely touched that she had wanted me to return,” she continued. “In that moment I realized that I had touched someone and made a difference in their world. I felt so blessed and honored that I knew I had to return to volunteer again so I told the young lady it was a possibility that I would be back.”
As Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline‘s newest partner, Breakthrough has collaborated seamlessly with Illinois State faculty and students, offering countless opportunities to serve together, learn from each other, and build with families in East Garfield Park.
“There were not any challenges when I returned to volunteer at Breakthrough,” Howard said. “Some of the kids remembered my face and name, so that made me feel more comfortable and relaxed.”
This volunteer experience in a community center such as Breakthrough, which takes a holistic approach to community and youth development, has reinforced Howard’s aspirations of becoming an urban educator, girls basketball coach, and summer enrichment counselor.
“Illinois State and the College of Education continue to offer opportunities to expand my knowledge on educating students in urban communities with trips and urban focused classes,” Howard said. “They do a very good job with connecting students who want to teach in Chicago with the right people and offer opportunities to gain experience working in diverse settings. I feel I have a deeper understanding of the partnership the community has with its neighboring schools and the supports that the community offers. I think that the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline has done a great job with connecting future educators with schools and placements in Chicago,” she exclaimed.
Gynger Garcia is from Breakthrough Urban Ministries, and Valentina Gamboa-Turner is from the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline.