Here is a summary of what happened this past academic year at GRCC.
Grand Rapids Community College is a commuter campus of a little over 13,000 students. Twenty six percent of the students are full time (the highest percentage since 2010), and 74 % are part time. The average age of a GRCC student is 24 years old, Twenty five percent of students are 25 or older. Because of these realities, many of the traditional ways of doing campus ministry are not as effective at GRCC. It is a school where we practice “loitering with intent” as a way to connect with students.
One regular program of ours is the Listening Post. Every Tuesday of the academic year from 11 am – 2pm volunteers from local congregations and the Ministry Director are at a table in the Student Center available to listen to whatever students wish to talk about. Sometimes we only see a student once. For example I spoke with a young man whose mother had died four days earlier. That was our only conversation. Other students stop by weekly. One student, a self identified atheist comes every week to talk about his life. Here are a few examples of the kinds of conversations we have.
A student stops to tell us they do not feel safe on campus, because someone from their past knows they are at GRCC. They are using different routes when going places. Listener asked and learned, they have an appointment with school counselor to talk about this. The next week they return and tell us that they did tell counselor about safety issue. Today they are encouraged, saying “I’m going to do what I need to do!”
Two weeks later they stop by to say they have all “A”s, but are tired. Another two weeks later, they tell us they had dental surgery the day before, they are moving this week, and feeling stressed but still have all “A’s. The community college honor society was tabling across the way. We suggested they go talk with them because the honor society can help them get scholarships. They went to talk, came back and said,” they have scholarships to the two schools I’m thinking about transferring to.”
A Muslim student stopped was discouraged about failing math test. The listener and the student talked about using math lab and free tutoring. Students can retake the test up to three times. Next week: stopped to say they passed the test.
An LPN student had noticed our Suicide lifeline cards earlier. They stopped this day to share “Logics” suicide prevention rap video with the listeners. This person is an older student returning to school, and they tell us their father completed suicide 30 years ago. The Listener and student talked about Survivors of Suicide event coming up, co hosted by GRCC nursing department. Then one of the nursing staff who is organizing Survivors of Suicide event stopped by to talk. Next the advisor from two year college honor society that was tabling across the hall came over and said they overheard the discussion about the SOS event and their students decided they want to help with the event.
We also connect with students by supporting existing student groups, offering our presence and encouragement. Our Ministry Director attends the two hour weekly meetings of StandOut, the LGBTQ student group on campus.
At the request of the Nursing Department faculty, the Ministry DIrector is present in the Nursing department to pray with students. Faculty actively refer students and students are free to stop and request prayer.
We also work to maintain connections with students via our weekly newsletter and our social media sites. Students contact the Ministry Director as needed through Facebook Messenger and text messaging. This can result in one on one in person conversations. This is especially important to students who cannot attend events because of work schedules and family responsibilities or who have heavy academic loads. (one of our students was taking 19 hours in the Winter 2018 semester!) Often these encounters are quite practical, we helped one student understand how to make airline and hotel reservations online. We also have accompanied students to the hospital for surgery when they did not have local family support.
Along with our ministry colleagues ( Jabez Ministries and Fellowship of Student Athletes) we host the Breakfast Boost on the Monday and Tuesday of Finals Week. We give students free bagels, donuts and coffee. We serve and interact with approximately 190 students each semester through this event. We also host a Thanksgiving dinner at Westminster Presbyterian Church. We have students who regularly attend this even and who we only see at this event, but do encounter on campus informally.
GRCC facts to know:
Office of Student Life survey: 45% of students report being food insecure
35% report being housing insecure
9% report being homeless at least one night in the past year.
In addition to a more traditional food pantry, GRCc has several of these “Food Exchange” sites. In both these photos, I had put out several items, individual oatmeal cups, fruit cups, etc and after 60 minutes, not much was left. Hunger on campus is a real issue.
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