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Sullivan’s newest school is also, in a way, its oldest

The first chapter in the story of the Sullivan Foundation really begins in southern Indiana, in the town of Madison. It was there that Algernon Sydney Sullivan was born and spent his formative years.

In fact, even today, at the corner of 2nd and Poplar Streets, sits a beautiful and beautifully restored brick house originally built in 1818 by Jeremiah Sullivan, just four years prior to Algernon’s birth.

Hanover College students participate in the Community Stewardship Initiative’s Spring Service Day

Now, nearly two centuries after Sullivan’s birth, the latest news from the foundation that bears his name comes from just around the corner. Hanover College, in the town of Hanover only a few miles away, is where he began his college career (ultimately graduating from Miami University of Ohio). It is also one of two new members of the Sullivan Foundation family.

The historical connection between Hanover and Sullivan is not the only reason the two institutions are coming together, of course. Hanover has a proven commitment to service and has, in recent years, doubled down on that commitment.

A standout among Hanover’s service offerings is the recently established Community Stewardship Initiative (CSI). The organization takes aim at integrating students into the larger community by partnering with local service organizations.

“Each student assigns themselves to an organization in the Jefferson County area,” says David Harden, Hanover’s Director of Experiential Learning. “They get to know them, they spend time with them. They get to know what some of their needs are. Then they bring those needs back to our organization and we find out what we can do as a college.”

Students take part in a poverty simulation exercise

That emphasis on true engagement is the cornerstone of the initiative. Harden and others at Hanover want to build face-to-face connections, both to better serve the organizations and to break down the invisible walls that often exist between academic institutions and the communities that surround them.

That type of division is particularly common for schools like Hanover, an elite liberal arts college in a county of less than 40,000 where more than half of all families receive some kind of public assistance. CSI promotes service not for the purpose of scoring points on a CV, but for creating a dialogue between the college and the community.

“We don’t decide what they need,” says Harden, “we listen to what they need. And then we go serve.”

The focus of CSI is broad. Student groups have worked with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and a local food pantry called House of Hope, among many others.

At Madison Consolidated High School, for example, Hanover students have helped high schoolers with their community garden, even making sure it’s maintained during summer vacation and assisting in the distribution of the food it produces.

Since the founding of CSI, the pivot toward experiential service learning at Hanover has only increased. The 2015 arrival of the college’s new president, Dr. Lake Lambert III, brought with it a challenge: to complete 1,827 hours of service work (commemorating Hanover’s 1827 founding) before his inauguration as president.

“That was from the first of September when he arrived here until the first of October,” says Harden, “and we were able to do that, which was really cool.”

Hanover promotes the future of the area as well, through collaboration like the one it has with Envision Jefferson County, a community development organization. Envision’s chairperson, coincidentally, is Valicia Crisafulli, a Sullivan Award recipient. One of those collaborations promises to create an online portal and database to track Hanover students’ service work all over the county to better understand the impact their efforts are having.

Efforts to help students understand the kind of conditions less fortunate Jefferson Countians must face every day can also happen at the theoretical level, but there is always a hands-on component. Many students recently participated in a poverty simulation in which they “live” for a month facing daily responsibilities. Each week was represented by a 15-minute period, during which they had to go to work for seven minutes, pay bills, take care of their children, all on whatever small budget they were earning.

Hanover student Audrey Masterson found the simulation changed her view significantly.

“I thought I already had an idea of how hard living in poverty is, but it turns out I had no clue at all,” says Masterson. “No matter how hard I worked to get money, there was no way to get out of poverty. It made me think about the stories people have outside their jobs. It was a wakeup call.”

Whether in the classroom or in the field, experiential learning is not just a buzzword at Hanover. The more ties made to the world outside the campus, the better for Jefferson County, the college, and the students, whose educations are as much a benefit to them as their work is to the community.

Hanover’s exemplary efforts to keep improving on its service record make it a valuable addition to the Foundation’s network. That they will be bestowing Sullivan Awards at Algernon Sydney Sullivan’s alma mater and just a few miles from where he was raised makes for a nice historical symmetry.

The Jeremiah Sullivan House, as the home is known today, is now a museum open to the public. It ought to make the perfect place for future Hanover Sullivan Award honorees to visit after they receive their medallions on graduation day.

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