Berea College Leads Nation in On-Campus Sustainability Efforts

By Tim Jordan

Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College gained the No. 1 spot in the nation for campus engagement in the newly released 2019 Sustainable Campus Index (SCI). The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recognizes top-performing colleges and universities in 17 sustainability impact areas and overall by institution type, as measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) reporting system.

Berea, long known for a strong commitment to sustainability, was recognized with a perfect score for campus engagement. Since 2017, Berea College has had a “gold” STARS rating.

Related: Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat helps college students spark social change in three days.

The newly released SCI report also highlights innovative and high-impact initiatives from institutions that submitted STARS reports in the most recent calendar year. The institutions and initiatives featured in this year’s SCI showcase the great work higher education institutions are doing to lead the global sustainability transformation.

Berea College is a leader in “turning the bluegrass state green,” achieving many sustainability “firsts.” It had both the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building in Kentucky (Lincoln Hall, the College’s administration building) and the first LEED-certified hotel (Historic Boone Tavern Hotel and Restaurant).

Related: Berea College brings the AIR Institute to Kentucky to promote Appalachian crafts.

Berea’s campus also is home to several LEED-certified residence halls and the newly-built Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building (MAC), which was awarded LEED gold certification and full-project certification by the Forest Stewardship Council. Berea College is also the home of the first Ecovillage in the commonwealth. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to assess and recognize buildings, homes and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance, LEED promotes environmentally and socially responsible construction and operation of green buildings to improve quality of life.

Berea offers a no-tuition college experience, where students are “free to follow their dreams after college without the burden of costly student loans.” Along with Sullivan partner school Alice Lloyd College, Berea was recognized by both USA Today and Fox Business for its efforts to help students work their way to a degree instead of dealing with the soaring tuition costs typical of today’s American colleges.

This is a slightly edited version of an original article on the Berea College website.

University of the Cumberlands Offers Free Textbooks to On-Campus Undergraduates

On-campus undergraduate students at the University of the Cumberlands will no longer have to pay for textbooks beginning in the fall of 2020, the Sullivan Foundation partner school said in a press release this week.

The new initiative, announced by University President Dr. Larry L. Cockrum, is another step toward “total price transparency and affordability” as part of The Cumberlands Commitment, which was announced in September 2018.

“The Cumberlands Commitment addresses one of the biggest problems facing college students today – affordability,” Cockrum stated. “We reduced on-campus tuition by 57 percent this year and will continue to maintain this new, lower rate for four years. Eliminating textbook costs is an additional way for Cumberlands to serve students and remove barriers to obtaining a college degree.”

Starting next fall, Cumberlands will give on-campus undergraduate students the option to participate in a textbook loan program. Participating students will receive books free of charge as long as those books are returned at the end of the semester. The program will include all fields of study, and students will have the option to purchase any books they would like to keep.

Cockrum noted that a majority of Cumberlands students are from working-class families, and many are first-generation college students who see education as a changing force for their families. Cockrum hopes the tuition reduction, and now the free textbook initiative, helps ease the burden families face when making decisions about pursuing a college education.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the cost of college textbooks had had almost doubled in the past 10 years, with an 88 percent jump between 2006 and 2016. Cumberlands is among a small number of universities nationwide to address this issue by offering a free textbook loan program.

“When students come to Cumberlands, they know exactly what they will pay for tuition, as well as room and board,” said Jerry Jackson, Vice President for Enrollment and Communications, “but the cost of their textbooks has been an unknown figure until they arrive and receive their class syllabi. With this new program we hope to eliminate that unknown while providing the books students need to succeed in their classes and ultimately the workforce.”

Jackson added the reminder that students have to opt in to the textbook program, and any family that wants to acquire textbooks in a traditional manner, either through the campus bookstore or other vendors, may continue to do so.

In August the University of the Cumberlands was recognized as one of the fastest-growing colleges in America and the country’s fastest growing doctoral private nonprofit institution. The university was also recognized as a College of Distinction for the 2019-20 school year.





11 Rollins College Students Selected for UN-Backed Millennium Fellowship

By Audrey St. Clair

A cohort of 11 Rollins College students has been selected to participate in the 2019 Millennium Fellowship, a prestigious leadership development program that empowers students to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on campus and in their communities. Rollins, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, was one of just 30 campuses worldwide selected to host the global pilot program in 2018.

Students from 1,209 campuses across 135 nations applied to the highly selective fellowship, which was launched last year by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative and the Millennium Campus Network (MCN).

From August through December, Rollins Millennium Fellows will take action to help implement some of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the U.N. adopted in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. The goals range from clean water and affordable clean energy to quality education and responsible consumption. Millennium Fellows’ projects are projected to positively impact the lives of more than 970,000 people worldwide.

In their fellowship applications, students were asked to propose a project that would advance at least one U.N. Sustainable Development Goal and one UNAI principle. Projects include everything from research and documentary filmmaking to running a social enterprise and leading campus-wide initiatives. As the faculty advisor for the Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship Hub, political science professor Dan Chong will work closely with the cohort on developing and implementing their individual projects.

this photo shows the various members of the Rollins cohort

Clockwise from left: Isaac Gorres, Aditya Das, Brian Mahanpour, and Eliane Heller are among Rollins’ eleven 2019 Millennium Fellows.

“Rollins College stands out as one of the most committed university communities committed to social impact in the world,” says Sam Vaghar, MCN executive director and co-founder. “This extends from the students to the faculty and administration that strongly advocate for them. I have personally seen the extraordinary passion, commitment, and follow-through present in this community, and it is exciting and fitting to see Rollins selected to host Millennium Fellows on campus for another year.”

In addition to Millennium Fellowship sessions on campus this year, there will be webinars with sector leaders from the United Nations and the Gates Foundation along with collaboration from Howard W. Buffett, whose new book, Social Value Investing, has provided content for the fellowship curriculum.

“Our Millennium Fellows will leverage their Rollins education by engaging in global challenges such as educational inequality, sustainability, human rights, and access to health,” says Micki Meyer, Lord Family Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs-Community. “The U.N. Sustainability Goals provide students with a framework to direct their commitment to change, and we’re excited to see how they learn and grow from this leadership opportunity.”

Rollins’ 2019 Millennium Fellows are:

  • Farahana Cajuste ’21
  • Brittany Chaney ’21
  • Aditya Das ’22
  • Wyatt Deihl ’21
  • Jiayi Ding ’21
  • Isaac Gorres ’20
  • Eliane Heller ’21
  • Dahlia Lilleslatten ’20
  • Brian Mahanpour ’20
  • Brunella Roncetti ’21
  • Ye Wong ’21

This story originally appeared on the Rollins College website.

Field Trip Spotlight: This Pay-What-You-Can Cafe Makes Everyone Feel Welcome, Regardless of Income

There’s room for everyone at A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe in Raleigh, North Carolina, that provides delicious, fresh and healthy meals and coffee drinks to customers regardless of their income.

Opened in January 2018, A Place at the Table is one of many social enterprises featured in the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh. The field trip, which takes place Sept. 13-15, will take changemakers in the Sullivan network to a range of nonprofit and for-profit enterprises in the Raleigh-Durham region.

The deadline to register for the field trip is Friday, Sept. 6.

Maggie Kane, the café’s executive director, hit upon the idea for A Place at the Table several years ago after learning about pay-what-you-can concepts through the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats, according to She spent many hours at a similar operation, F.A.R.M. Café in Boone, N.C., to learn its ins and outs and consulted with successful restaurateurs in Raleigh for more guidance, all while rounding up financial support from local churches, faith-based organizations and businesses.

this photo shows the clientele at A Place at the Table

Customers can enjoy good conversation over a Cardamon Rose Latte at A Place at the Table.

“It took three years to spread the word, to tell people who we were, to have people support us,” Kane told Indyweek. “We then had to find a location. A lot of landlords turned us away. People turned us down because we weren’t a sexy restaurant they wanted to put in their space.”

But “sexy” isn’t really what A Place at the Table is about. “Wholesome” is a better word. It’s a café that specializes in delicious, healthy meals—breakfast and lunch—prepared with an artisanal touch. Menu items range from avocado toast, quiche and eggs, and yogurt and granola bowls to sandwiches like the Smokey Chipotle Pimento Cheese, the Caprese Panini and the Turkey Gouda Melt. Customers can also opt for soups and salads featuring local seasonal ingredients.

this photo shows how tasty the sandwiches look at A Place at the Table

The Ham and Cheddar Melt is one of many sandwiches, paninis and melts on the menu.

As for the prices on the menu, they’re perfectly reasonable—and merely suggestions. Customers can pay the full price or at least half of it, and if they can’t afford either, they can volunteer with the café. In that case, they’ll be assigned jobs that fit their abilities—from pulling kitchen duty to wiping tables or washing windows.

Customers who can afford to pay more than the suggested price are encouraged to do so, with the extra money going back into A Place at the Table’s overall operations. “Other (pay-what-you-can) cafes’ operations show that 80 percent of people need to be paying the suggested donation or paying more for their meal,” the café’s website states.

Customers can also purchase $10 tokens and give them out to others in need. After all, A Place at the Table is as much about bringing people together as it is about food. “We are a welcoming and inviting space that provides an opportunity for all people to come and experience conversation and community while enjoying an excellent, fresh and healthy meal,” the website states. “People long for a community, a place to fit in, a place to feel welcome, and a place to be a part of something bigger than just themselves.”

this photo illustrates how many people have been helped by A Place at the Table
A Place at the Table’s staff includes an executive chef, three sous-chefs and two baristas, among others. Kane grew up volunteering in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and after dining in soup kitchens herself to get the full experience, she realized something was missing. “I hated not getting to choose what I wanted to eat, having a plate of food I didn’t like, and being rushed,” she told Indyweek. “You had to stand in line and then eat in five minutes. There was no community in that moment.”

Dining should be a communal experience, Kane believes, and a meal should never feel like a handout. That was her goal for A Place at the Table. As she told, “I think there is a dignity in getting to choose what you want versus being handed a plate, in being served, having someone bring it to you, filling your water glass for you, and getting to sit down and savor it.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat Coaches: Ajax Jackson Teaches Yoga as a Technology for Life Transformation

The internet abounds with apps and tools for yoga practitioners, but Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans and a coach at the upcoming Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, knows yoga itself is a technology—one that has been delivering results for more than 5,000 years.

Although viewed by most as a spiritual practice, yoga, Jackson says, is also “an ancient technology still relevant for our modern-day ills. It’s a technology focused on the mind and body. Think about it: Humans have been using tools for a long time. In fact, we have progressed so much because of tools. Yoga should be used and viewed in the same way. Life is considered a process, and yoga prepares us for this process called life.”

Related: Learn more about the Fall Ignite Retreat, Oct. 18-20, in Asheville, N.C.

Many in the medical field agree. “Along with offering direct health benefits, the various yoga tools—including the physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation—are part of a systematic technology for life transformation, a step-by-step method for changing bad habits,” notes Dr. Timothy McCall, a physician and the medical editor of Yoga Journal.

this photo captures both the spirit of New Orleans and Ajax Jackson's colorful personality

Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans, said she will serve as a “living, breathing case-study coach” at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat.

Jackson founded New Orleans’ first black-owned yoga studio because she wanted to teach others to make this proven technology work for them. With a background in socio-cultural anthropology, education and the nonprofit sector, she said, “I have been in the business of understanding, educating and caring for people most of my adult life.”

She opened Magnolia Yoga after receiving her own “life tune-up” through yoga. “I decided to study the technology formally with a world-renowned yoga teacher, training to open a studio to make a living doing what I love while supporting people’s healing and development of self. With this plan, I knew I could help transform the world!”

Magnolia Yoga offers private instruction for individuals as well as group classes and corporate yoga for businesses looking to improve workplace morale, increase productivity and encourage teamwork. Offering classes seven days a week, the studio is only closed on Christmas Day, Jackson said.

Related: View a pictorial of the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

“We have become a beacon of light for New Orleans residents, locals, natives, transplants and all of her international visitors,” Jackson said. “The city at large and our surrounding area have never seen a business like ours before, and because of that and the positive impact and influence of the work, we are considered a gem!”

this photo depicts the healing nature of one of Ajax Jackson's yoga classes

For individuals taking Ajax Jackson’s classes, yoga is both a spiritual practice and a technology that promotes healing and self-improvement.

For Jackson, every new challenge is an opportunity to learn and improve herself, and the upcoming Ignite Retreat will be no different. “Participating in the Ignite Retreat allows me to focus on several areas of my own education and professionalism that need development while I share and cultivate with others,” she said. “I want to serve and learn from our younger generations as well as teach them the value of self-care and radical self-development through yoga and meditation.”

Jackson said she will serve as “a living, breathing case-study coach” for students at the Ignite Retreat and share her own experiences as an entrepreneur with a strong focus on helping others. She will also lead a yoga class for interested participants.

“I think having coaches accessible in this format is brilliant and a great model for other organizations to consider using,” she said. “With hope and inspiration, I plan on weaving in themes and teachings that correlate with and complement the Ignite Retreat’s mission.”

The Fall Ignite Retreat will be held Oct. 18-20 in Asheville, N.C., and features workshops and seminars led by dynamic facilitators, speakers and social entrepreneurs from around the U.S. Click here for more information or to register to attend.

this photo demonstrates a yoga pose taught in Ajax Jackson's class

“We are in a hard-fought moment right now where much of our hard work on all fronts is paying off,” Jackson said. “I’m very proud of this moment because I just put my head down and worked for it. I just happened to look up and realized we actually made it out of the swamp!”

University Students Learn Social Entrepreneurship Skills at Sullivan Foundation’s Upcoming Ignite Retreat

Students from throughout the southeastern United States will meet in Asheville, N.C., October 18-20, to attend the Sullivan Foundation’s social entrepreneurship-focused Ignite Retreat.

Sullivan retreats are designed to immerse students in a series of targeted workshops that help them “ignite” ideas for making positive change in their communities or develop a social business enterprise or event that might solve or alleviate a problem.

this photo conveys the energy of the Ignite Retreat attendees

Ignite Retreat attendees learned how to build social enterprise businesses and made new connections and friends at the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat.

“The Sullivan Foundation recognizes students and community leaders who have led lives with integrity characterized by service above self and service to their communities. We’ve presented awards each year since 1890 to outstanding students primarily. And since 1934, we have provided scholarships to deserving students,” said Steve McDavid, the Foundation’s president. “In 2008, we added focused programming, including the Ignite events, to foster social enterprise activities.”

Related: View a photo gallery of the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

Students interested in the Ignite Retreat may attend a series of workshops and activities and connect with many socially conscious, like-minded individuals from throughout the southeast and beyond. They may also choose from three educational programming tracks for the weekend based on whether they are just beginning their social entrepreneurial journey, have a set of social challenges they would like to learn how to address now, or have a specific social venture they would like to bring to life.

this photo depicts a self-empowered yoga instructor who will facilitate workshops at the Sullivan Foundation's Ignite Retreat

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga in New Orleans, says that once you can get your body into an open and flexible, you can do the same with your mind.

Students can also pitch their projects to experienced social entrepreneurs, gain access to and get feedback from Sullivan Award alumni, and receive access to Sullivan scholarship funding.

Spud Marshall, founder of the and innovation director at 3 Dots, will lead the Fall Ignite Retreat, along with Harrison Wood, program coordinator for the Teach For America Graduate Fellows Program. The event also will feature an impressive roster of dynamic, experienced facilitators, coaches, innovators and social entrepreneurs, including:

Holley Murchison, founder and CEO of Oratory Glory and founding partner of HOLI. Brands

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo and executive director of Don’t Waste Durham

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga

Abhinav Khanal, co-founder of Bean Voyage

Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble

Tessa Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Chad Littlefield, founder of WE!

Interested students may purchase tickets for the Ignite Retreat until October 2. General admission is $425. However, a select group of students from the 70-plus Sullivan Network Schools may be eligible to receive a sponsored ticket. Meals and housing are included with admission.

this photo shows that Crystal Dreisbach is a social innovator with a unique product

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo in Durham, North Carolina, is also leading a campaign to reduce single-use plastic in the city.

For further information go to or call 662-236-6335. To register go to  You may also e-mail questions regarding the events to

Related: Ignite Retreat speaker leads charge to reduce plastic waste in Durham, N.C.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation was founded in 1934, but its roots date back 60 years earlier when U.S. President Grover Cleveland and a group of other influential persons created the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to honor those that inspire a life of integrity and service. Sullivan Awards have been presented to people whose lives of service have changed the world with little fanfare as well as those who have become household names – recipients include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, to name a few.

this photo shows the fun energy that Chad Littlefield brings to his Ignite Retreat presentations

Team-building expert Chad Littlefield of We! helps groups of people engage in conversations that matter. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Sullivan Field Trip Offers Whirlwind Trip to At Least Seven Social Enterprises

Seven social-enterprise businesses have already been lined up for the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, and more are in the works, according to organizer Harrison Wood.

The field trip takes place Sept. 13-15, 2019. For a rate of $119 per room, partner schools can use this link to book rooms for their attending students at the Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown, located at 320 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. To book by phone, they can call 855-914-1878 and reference Block ID “SUL.” Schools must book the group-block rooms by August 27.

Click here now to sign up for the field trip. The deadline to register is Sept. 2.

Students with an interest in social entrepreneurship will meet and learn from owners of a wide variety of businesses with a focus on social impact. Many of them are triple-bottom-line businesses – they generate a profit while also addressing a social need and benefiting the environment. These social enterprises include:

HQ Raleigh—Launched in 2012, this co-working community fosters entrepreneurship and collaboration. It has helped launch 500 start-ups in Raleigh, according to the company website. At its Warehouse District Location, HQ Raleigh creates a “collaborative environment that empowers high-impact, high-growth entrepreneurs to create purpose-driven businesses that leave the world better than they found it.”

Picture shows a selection of Reborn Clothing items for sale

Reborn Clothing creates an upcycling option for old clothes in your closet.

Reborn Clothing Co.—Emily Neville started Reborn Clothing as a sophomore at North Carolina State University to give consumers an upcycling option for their clothes and to reduce textile waste. The company takes used garments and repurposes them into new, useful items, including baby blankets, throw pillows, dog bandanas and more. Visitors to Reborn’s website can also purchase upcycled items made from scraps from the manufacturing process. These range from duffel bags and makeup cases to keychains, earrings and scrunchies.

CompostNow—This social business helps reduce waste by collecting food scraps from residents and businesses and turning it into compost for gardens. Customers receive a bin that can be filled up with any food scraps, pizza boxes, coffee grounds and paper products. CompostNow picks up the filled bin and replaces it with a clean one on each service day. Customers can use the resulting compost in their own gardens or donate it to farms and community gardens in the region. The company’s clients include individual households, restaurants and business offices.

this photo shows how young people are interested in composting

Volunteers spend some time creating compost for CompostNow.

A Place at the Table—This pay-what-you-can, breakfast-and-lunch café opened in downtown Raleigh in January 2018. A Place at the Table provides healthy food and community for anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Payment options include paying the suggested price; paying at least half of the suggested price; or volunteering with the restaurant. Tips go to furthering A Place at the Table’s mission, and customers can also purchase $10 tokens to pass out in the community.

Carroll’s Kitchen—This foodservice social enterprise in Downtown Raleigh provides employment for women recovering from homelessness, incarceration, addiction and domestic violence. The Carroll’s Kitchen menu features contemporary comfort food in catering and grab-and-go services. Artisan items include mushroom toast and avocado toast for brunch, the Sausage & Roasted Pepper Quiche, seasonal soups, salads, and sandwiches such as the BBQ Meatloaf, the Pressed Roast Beef Wrap and the Turkey Brie, among others.

this photo shows the attractive GreenToGo packaging

GreenToGo containers can replace up to 1,000 single-use styrofoam boxes.

Don’t Waste Durham/GreenToGo—Crystal Dreisbach is leading a campaign to significantly reduce plastic and paper waste in Durham with these two operations. Through Don’t Waste Durham, she has proposed a new ordinance, recently endorsed by the city’s Environmental Affairs Board, that would impose a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores, restaurants and grocery stores in Durham. She also founded GreenToGo, a reusable to-go container service for restaurant customers. GTG’s reusable carryout box has a spill-proof, durable design, and one box replaces at least 1,000 single-use Styrofoam boxes.

Bee Downtown—Founded by fourth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, Bee Downtown installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas, helping to rebuild honey bee populations while providing turnkey, year-round employee engagement and leadership development programming to its partners. Clients have included AT&T, Chick-Fil-A and Delta Airlines.

this photo shows honey bees in action

Bee Downtown uses honey bees to teach leadership while also benefiting the environment.

Randolph-Macon College Breaks New-Student and Overall Enrollment Records

Sullivan Foundation partner school Randolph-Macon College will welcome 490 new students—its largest entering class ever—for the Fall 2019 semester, with an overall historic enrollment of more than 1,510 students. The new students include 440 freshmen and 50 transfer students.

This is the first year that enrollment numbers at R-MC have exceeded 1,500. Classes begin on Monday, September 2. Located in Boydton, Va., R-MC was founded in 1830. It’s the oldest United Methodist Church-affiliated college in the nation.

The college has also rolled out several new programs, majors and initiatives:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program: This program integrates the college’s rigorous liberal arts education with a four-year nursing program that will prepare graduates for nursing careers. A state-of-the-art nursing facility, currently under construction, is slated for completion in 2020.

eSports program: Competitions are facilitated by electronic systems, particularly video games; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces.

Show Choir: This program uses vocals, choreography, staging, costuming, and production to synthesize an artistic experience.

Randolph Macon Ensemble: This musical organization, launched in the spring of 2019, performs a broad spectrum of instrumental music.

Equestrian Program at Coventry Farm: The Equestrian Program includes a club, an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team, and an Eventing team. Riders board their horses and train at R-MC’s Coventry Farm.

Cybersecurity major: This computing-based discipline involves the creation, operation, analysis and testing of secure systems, networks and applications to protect against a variety of digital threats.

Writing major: The central focus of this major is to heighten students’ power to use the written word effectively and with style.

This story originally appeared here on the Randolph-Macon College website. 



Mercer University Students Make Reading Fun for Kids in Freedom School Program

By Jennifer Borage

It’s 9 a.m., and there’s a lot of excitement in the Parish House of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Macon, Georgia. Children are standing up in front of pews, stomping their feet and chanting. A college student beats a red bucket like a drum.

“It’s Tuesday at Harambee, and Freedom School’s in the house!”

For six weeks in the summer, the church is home to Freedom School, a program dedicated to helping 50 rising first- through third-graders improve their reading skills and learn self-empowerment.

Each day starts with Harambee, which means “to pull together” in Swahili. Here, it’s basically a giant pep rally, getting the children pumped up and ready for reading. College students — four of whom are from Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University — lead the charge.

“A lot of kids have a negative view about going to school every day during the school year,” said NaShaya Bartolo, a junior double-majoring in law and public policy and English. She’s one of the Freedom School teachers, known as servant leader interns. “So we’re really trying to reinforce the fun and to show them that reading is also fun.”

Creating Better Readers
Reading is embedded in everything the children do at Freedom School. During Harambee, a guest reads a story aloud and discusses the book. Then, the children break up into groups, going to classrooms for three hours of reading and related exercises. After lunch, they participate in enrichment activities, such as gardening, ceramics, dance, writing and field trips — all with a tie back to reading.

“We read to them, they read to us, and we find ways to increase their reading abilities,” said Ashanti Griggs, a senior majoring in neuroscience who is also a servant leader intern.

Mercer University students (from left) Ibrahim Aslam, Charlie Marrs and NaShaya Bartolo interact with children during Harambee at Freedom School. (Photo by Bekah Howard)

Charlie Marrs, a senior double-majoring in creative writing and religion, is site coordinator at Freedom School, overseeing the teachers and making sure they have the needed supplies. Last year, she worked as a servant leader intern, teaching creative writing in the afternoons, something she’s continuing to do.

“We run a newspaper every week that the kids write up all of the columns for, and then I put it together,” Marrs said.

The children also write poetry. “We’ll go outside and pick up sticks or different things in nature and bring them back inside and use our five senses to write a poem about them,” Marrs said.

The children at Freedom School primarily come from Ingram-Pye, Riley and Southfield elementary schools. Those schools were chosen because they have among the lowest reading scores in Bibb County, said Julie Groce, missioner for Appleton Episcopal Ministries, which started Macon’s Freedom School in 2017.

Servant leader interns are trained by and use a curriculum from the Children’s Defense Fund, which opened its first Freedom School in 1995 and now has 183 sites in 87 cities nationwide. Freedom School provides breakfast and lunch and is run at no cost to the students who attend.

“One thing that I think makes this program important is that a lot of these kids come from pretty poor home situations, and so they’re fine when they’re at school because they can get away from that for a whole school day,” said teacher Ibrahim Aslam, a senior double-majoring in biology and Spanish.

“But … over the summer it’s hard to avoid that. They can’t really escape it. Freedom School offers a respite from what may be going on at home. They can get fed, they can be cared for and nurtured, and they can have positive role models.”

Mercer University junior NaShaya Bartolo works with children at Freedom School. (Photo by Bekah Howard)

Positive Outcomes

Children come out of Freedom School more motivated. Even when they have a hard time learning, they now have the perseverance to keep going, Groce said. “Several of our children have been with our program for all three years,” she said. “And there are three or four of our kids who are actually now accelerated readers after going through this program.”

Dr. Danielle Howard, principal of Ingram-Pye Elementary, said Freedom School’s smaller setting allows the servant leader interns to connect with children on a more personal level, “so some of our high-needs students get that individual attention.”

One student made such an impression on the servant leader interns that they started coming to school the next year to check on him. “That made his year so much better,” Howard said.

Freedom School is another way Mercer students are living out the University’s commitment to equity and social justice, said Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice provost for service-learning at Mercer. “Students don’t just happen to go to college in Macon; they feel invested in Macon and its future,” she said. “As we say around campus, ‘Changing the world starts at home.’ ”

Marrs has seen the impact of her community involvement firsthand. “I have seen just in the two years I’ve been doing this that kids who come back do have higher reading levels and are doing better in school,” she said. “But even more than that, their personalities really blossom because they know that they’re loved, and they know that they’re cared for here.

“This is much more than just a teaching job or a camp or hanging out with kids during the summer. It is really life-changing.”

This article originally appeared here on the Mercer University website.


Berea College, Alice Lloyd College Recognized as Tuition-Free Work Colleges

Two Sullivan Foundation partner schools—Berea College and Alice Lloyd College—were recognized recently by USA Today and Fox Business for their efforts to help students work their way to a degree instead of paying high tuition.

USA Today singled out Berea and ALC as two of the country’s nine official four-year “work colleges,” where students must work as part of their learning experience. Berea and ALC are two of only three such schools that offer free tuition.

For the story, USA Today interviewed Collis Robinson, who cleaned restrooms and set up events at Berea College before becoming comptroller and, later, director of the school’s campus activities board. “I led 22 people and had a $70,000 budget to manage,” Robinson, now Berea’s director of student labor, told USA Today. “I got to gain a lot of transferable skills.”

Students from ALC’s 108-county service are guaranteed that the full cost of their tuition will be covered. They have to work a minimum of 10 hours a week on campus, serving as janitors, resident advisors, teacher assistants, postal workers and other positions.

Students at Berea College have to work at on-campus departments 10-20 hours a week. They typically earn $2,000 for the academic year, USA Today reports.

Free tuition doesn’t necessarily mean a free education, of course. Depending on the school, other expenses, such as room, board, books and supplies might have to be covered by the student in other ways, whether out-of-pocket or through scholarships, loans or Pell Grants. Still, working for your degree is a big money-saver, as USA Today notes: “The average undergraduate annual tuition and fees across all undergraduate institutions is $12,600, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Students at private nonprofit schools pay the most: $33,800 annually on average.”