The University is undoubtedly torn between its desire to help disadvantaged areas of the District and its obligation to ensure student safety. GW students continue to volunteer in some of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, despite serious safety concerns, because of their commitment to help underprivileged youth.
The Office of Community Service has suspended a partnership with Neval Thomas Elementary in Northeast D.C. after eleven students returning from volunteer work at the school were held up by three men and four students were robbed.
With the suspension, students are no longer authorized to volunteer at Thomas elementary, despite an original yearlong commitment. The students were part of the Jumpstart community service program, which attempts to increase the language and social skills of underprivileged preschoolers.
Students understand the risks that come with volunteering in such areas as Thomas Elementary’s and should not be prevented from continuing to volunteer if they still wish to do so.
When the Thomas Elementary incident occurred, the student victims did not even want to speak with The Hatchet for fear of scaring people away from the volunteer work they deem indispensable. The students said they were warned of the safety concerns, understood the risks and volunteered on their own accord. Most of those that were held up made it clear that the incident only strengthened their commitment to helping eachother at Thomas Elementary, but the administration has denied them and others from going back to the site.
The Office of Community Service is right to search for funds to hire a van to take students to and from volunteer sites in order to alleviate some of the risks associated with volunteering. It also should be flexible if students wish to volunteer at different sites after the robbery, as it truly was a difficult experience. But denying students the choice to continue the relationships they formed with the children so far this year is a step in the wrong direction.
While understanding the administration’s concern for student safety and the possible liability issues that exist, the student volunteers are adults that have made a decision to help out. By denying these students from going back to Thomas Elementary, the administration is only hurting those that need help the most – the preschoolers in the Jumpstart program.
Administrators are being intimidated by the short-term problems that Jumpstart and the Neighbor’s Project seek to address in the long-term. By providing children with the education and support that Jumpstart offers, hopefully change will occur and another generation will not resort to the same type of criminal activity in that area.