Ouachita Baptist University established the Ben M. Elrod Center for Family and Community in 1997 in order to link the university’s unique resources with the needs of the state of Arkansas. The Elrod Center was established to meet the need for an organized, campus-wide voice to encourage, coordinate and facilitate public service, volunteerism, and community engagement. While the majority of the center’s efforts focus on this region, we may occasionally expand our endeavors to serve the nation and the world.
Universities in the United States have a long-standing tradition of embracing teaching, research and service as their trinity of purpose. These traditional concepts have been transformed by new thinking which seeks to preserve the traditions of the past while seizing the learning oriented climate of the present. Learning, discovery and engagement have come to be the renaissance terms that speaks of a university learning environment that is dynamic, collaborative, and democratized. The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities has best articulated the essence of this new commitment to service in the twenty-first century in a report entitled “Returning to our Roots: The Engaged Institution.”
The Project for Public and Community Service is one notable example of an organization that has been established in light of the renewed commitment being made to service by many of the major universities. Members of this organization see it as one manifestation of the level of commitment on the part of members to attempt to assist institutions of higher education to be more socially responsible. As a result of such attempts, many of our nation’s most prestigious universities have created public service centers the equivalent of the Elrod Center.
An emphasis is also being placed on service-learning or community-based learning. Many have found that by linking academic needs and community needs, students and faculty enjoy an enriched learning environment. A “classroom without walls” provides a means by which professors may select a “laboratory” that strengthens the intensity of the learning process.
Ouachita has a long-standing tradition of defining itself as an institution committed to service and the development of students who are servant leaders. The earliest mission statements of the university reflect Ouachita’s early leaders’ desire to nurture graduates who will serve God and mankind with skill, commitment and integrity.
In August 1995, the strategic plans of Ouachita reflected a desire to rethink and revisit our commitment to service. A plan entitled A Compact for a Renewed Community, the second phase of Ouachita’s Decade of Progress Campaign (October 1995 through December 1998), stated that a Center for the Study of the Family would be established and an endowment of $1,000,000 would be raised to provide program support. By early in 1997 a grant had been secured by the Ouachita Development Office as well as the office of the president to secure an initial grant for the establishment of such a center. With the involvement of Dr. Roger Sublett of the W.K. Kellogg foundation, Dr. Ben M. Elrod, president, Dr. Andrew Westmoreland, then vice president of development and Ms. Margaret Wright, development officer, a grant in the amount of $82,175 was secured to begin a pilot project.
A brief summary of the first year of operations follows (1997-98):
- In November of 1996 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant of $82,175 to commence a pilot program.
- Dr. Ben Elrod appointed Ian Cosh to be the chairman of the task force charged with oversight of the project.
- A task force of twenty faculty, staff and students was formed to help implement the grant.
- An advisory council of community leaders was formed.
- Staff members of Cornell University’s Public Service Center were hired as our consultants.
- A workshop for 100 key student leaders was held to discuss public service, volunteerism and service-learning..
- Dr. Ruth Bunous of Cornell conducted a workshop for faculty leaders to discuss service-learning and other related public service issues..
- A service-learning course entitled, Issues in the Family and Community, was offered. Nine students enrolled and worked with the Head Start and Parents as Teachers programs.
- The following service agency workshops were held: Parenting Skills, Communicating with Children, Nutrition for Children, and Music for Children.
- Expert-In-Residence programs featured Dr. Ken Canfield, president and founder of the National Center for Fathering, and Dr. Charles Figley, traumatologist from Florida State University.
- A Spring Break Enrichment Camp was held, in collaboration with the Arkadelphia Public Schools, by 33 Ouachita students and involved 66 children.
- Day Enrichment Camps were held as follow-up activities.
- Tiger Serve Day was established to provide a mass introduction to community service.
- A Summer Tiger Serve Team was formed with 6 students to aid in tornado cleanup with a total of 2,500 hours worked.
- A supplementary grant of $28,000 was given by W.K. Kellogg to help with tornado- related projects.
- The America Reads Challenge program was established as a university and public school collaboration.