Through the SEEDS program, some 200 Reedies volunteer their time and effort in the local community. They will tell you they harvest more than they sow.
By Dan Sadowsky
Portland’s Harriet Tubman Middle School is a long, squat building made of red brick, wedged against the I-5 freeway on the city’s eastside. Sited near a large hospital, modest single-family homes, and a concentration of drab light-industrial buildings, the school and its surroundings seem a world removed from the tranquil, sylvan campus of Reed College.
Shortly before 5 o’clock on a Monday after-noon in April, most of the school’s 294 students—70 percent of whom are African American,and 72 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches—are already home. But in one upstairs classroom, Reed seniors Katie Rempe and Kate Paddock are placing bottles of bright paint on four rectangular tables covered with sheets of black construction paper, and preparing for the weekly onslaught.
Suddenly, two adolescent girls rush through the door shouting, “What are we making today?” “Can we start?”
Within a few minutes, nine paintbrush-wielding girls are gossiping, trading compliments, and teasing each other about boys while the Reedies, who have led this popular weekly activity since January, make sure everyone has supplies and is at least semi-focused on painting. “It’s called ‘World Art Class,’” says Rempe, an anthropology major from Indianola, Iowa. “But it’s really about hanging out, having space, and talking to people who aren’t their teachers.”
For Rempe and Jackson,a linguistics major from Austin, Texas, the class is a respite from Reed’s intense academic environment and an opportunity to get involved in the larger Portland community in a meaningful way. They are two of more than 200 Reedies who plant trees, send books to prisoners, read to first graders, rehab kids bicycles, and do other service projects that connect them to the world beyond academia.
Louis Cohen directs Reed’s main conduit for student volunteerism, SEEDS, which stands for Students for Education, Empowerment and Direct Service. “Reed volunteers are bright, driven students with a sense of social responsibility. And when they get out into the community, they’re putting that sense of responsibility into action,” says Cohen.
Cohen says his job is to complement Reed’s intellectual vigor with experiential learning that is equally enriching. Volunteer experiences, he says, can provide students with “a different look” at an issue than the perspective they get from lectures, dormitory discussions, or guest speakers.