Hinman Public Service Learning Community maintains relationship with local community despite COVID

Image: Members of the Hinman Public Service Learning Community meet with staff at the NoMa Community Center.
Members of the Hinman Public Service Learning Community meet with staff at the NoMa Community Center.

Oct. 2, 2020

By Gillian Mathews

Hinman's Public Service Learning Community (PSLC) has been working with residents in the North of Main (NoMa) community to enact resident-driven change.

NoMa is a community organization that aims to create partnerships between residents, businesses and the local community that produce resources, events and programs for community members. These partnerships provide ways to revitalize and connect Binghamton’s West Side. 

PLSC students at Binghamton University are encouraged to get involved in several ways, whether that is helping to distribute food at weekly community events or placing flyers around the neighborhood to publicize upcoming NoMa events. 

Max Kurant, vice president of service on the Hinman College Council (HCC) and a sophomore majoring in sociology, spoke about the collaboration between NoMa and HCC and the message he hopes to spread through their work. 

“Service is so easy to get wrong, I think because the word serve itself implies that you are almost looking down upon someone as you serve them,” Kurant said. “I think we're all equals working together. I try to stay away from words like ‘serve, help or needs’ and move towards empowering language. I consider my work and the work of other PSLC students as working with NoMa to achieve goals together and understanding what challenges the community is currently battling. No one is helpless and ‘needs’ anything, as much as they are looking for allies to step into their battle with them.”

According to Kurant, the partnership between NoMa and Hinman’s Public Service Learning community is beneficial for both organizations. The Hinman community is hoping to help grow the local community center and connect local residents with important resources. Students who get involved are engaged in a real-life learning process about social issues that they had previously learned about in classes. 

Erin Marulli, the secretary for safe streets for NoMa, said the partnership between the two groups has helped them to make the most of the value of volunteerism in a community setting. 

“NoMa is so appreciative to have an ongoing partnership with the Public Service Learning Community,” said Marulli. “It's been a great honor to work with a group of students who value community service as much as PSLC members do. We rely on volunteers for much of the work we do. PSLC members, however, are much more than just your basic volunteers — they strive to learn about the community and are genuinely invested in the work we do.” 

Kurant noted that volunteerism isn’t a “one and done” practice and hopes the collaboration between the two groups will take place for years to come. 

“I see our work as a constant practice of listening, learning, then doing the best we can and chasing goals like increasing awareness about the community center or overall economically empowering North of Main residents. My goal is that this partnership continues for, well, a long time because the issues in the NoMa community aren't resolved after a group of students hands out food and flyers for a year or two.”

The Hinman PSLC began their work with NoMa at the beginning of the fall semester last year and continued on into the spring. As their work continued and volunteerism took place on a regular basis, Kurant began to see a change in the partnership. 

Marulli noted that the work of PSLC students has impacted the reach of NoMa and helped to establish meaningful relationships with local community members. 

“Our partnership has allowed us to expand our advertising efforts and, prior to COVID, our weekly Saturday breakfasts,” said Marulli. “PSLC students spent almost every Saturday with us, taking orders, serving food or assisting with our weekly art program. Their faces soon became familiar to our many NoMa regulars.”

Kurant spoke about increased efficiency in NoMa’s projects due to more students being able to execute flyering and distribution of food. The students have also become more connected to the community and have taken on new volunteers to teach them the ropes. 

“What I'd say is most important,” said Kurant, “is learning to listen to both the people doing work in the community and the North of Main neighborhood residents themselves. That's surely the biggest lesson that I've gained: to not impose my beliefs or assumptions of why things are the way they are or how they should be onto the community, and rather to listen and learn before stepping in and taking action.”

Although COVID has presented obstacles to getting involved in the community, the Hinman PSLC has found ways to support the community outside of the campus and make an impact. 

“My hope is that the reset button is not pressed each year — after I likely leave the PSLC this year, I hope to have someone step into my shoes and be the main student coordinator between the PSLC and NoMa, or multiple people,” Kurant said. “Long-term relationships are so powerful, and I hope that's what this will be.”