UCSC lecturer teaches students to give back to the community
Franklin WIlliams’ office at UC Santa Cruz’s Kresge College is a smattering of knick-knacks, wall-to-wall photo collages, awards, and items destined for donation that he has received from friends, loved ones, students, and others. Judging by these mementos, the work the local grassroots homeless advocate has been doing at the school and in the community has left quite an impression.
Williams’ ongoing story has already had many chapters: from growing up in Compton, Calif., to struggling to be accepted into schools, to working as a personal counselor out of San Jose State University, to living through short periods of homelessness. Now, safely housed in Santa Cruz, he is putting his energy toward his students and helping members of the community who are in need.
“Santa Cruz is very transitory, it’s very hard to live here,” WIlliams says. “So, sometimes Santa Cruz doesn’t have people who care because they’re so busy trying to survive … I finally got someone in the community who’s helping me [with a fixed rent], so I can start to do this type of stuff.”
For the past six years, 62-year-old Williams has been teaching a class at Kresge College that focuses on service learning, with a slightly weighted emphasis on his preferred area of expertise, homeless services. He says he has had 500 students take the class over the years. Though his weeknight class is energetic and quirky, the curriculum includes no shortage of rigorous study, weekend community service volunteer work, and individual projects. As described on Kresge’s website, Williams’ class is “designed for students who are truly dedicated to giving back to the community in a mutually rewarding service-learning experience.”
Williams’ classes participate together in Saturday morning service work at least twice each quarter. This quarter, his 24 students volunteered at the St. Francis Soup Kitchen and made a visit to the Santa Cruz County Main Jail. Recently, Williams also organized his students and friends to support Make-A-Difference Day at the Homeless Garden Project (HGP) by mobilizing transportation to the event, writing a grant proposal to the national event sponsors, and donating almost 30 farming tools to be left at HGP for others to use in the future. Kresge College is currently conducting a campaign to help HGP pay for their upgrade to a better cash register-computer system.
Soon, the College will be hosting a student-only music benefit on campus for the HGP, which will also include a raffle for a variety of prizes. “I have collected several bikes, old laptops, and have donated several [other] pieces … for inexpensive raffle tickets to help raise money,” explains Williams.
Darrie Ganzhorn, executive director of the HGP, thinks that projects like Williams’ really “work.”
“Everybody wins,” she says. “Individual and community well-being increase [and] these volunteer experiences teach capability and compassion.” Ganzhorn goes on to describe another one of Williams‘ goals in pursuing these kinds of endeavors: “Community members meet real people who are homeless,” she says. “Stereotypes are erased.”
One of the things Williams is trying to do through his classes is “to get the students to have a sense of family and have a sense of trust within their own school and community, and [know] that they can make a difference.” But his efforts, he adds, are only truly working if the students he teaches then go out into the world and work toward improvement with their own hands.
In addition to fostering volunteer service, Williams also teaches grant writing and the ins and outs of nonprofit businesses in his class. He is motivated to get educated, dedicated graduates into the world of nonprofits, whether it be to start their own with the knowledge of successful business models, or to work for and improve existing organizations.
Sheradon Jorgensen, a recent UCSC graduate in psychology and a former student of Williams’, is now his teaching assistant for his Tuesday night class. For her student project the previous year, she donated time to the California Grey Bears and wrote a grant for them. Jorgensen says her work with Grey Bears provided her with the experience she needed to be hired at her next job.
“Helping the community is what’s going to help you progress,” she says. “I think Franklin’s a great guy and I wish there were more people like him. I really appreciate what he can do for the community.”
Williams also wants to plant roots for the growth of service-based courses within other colleges at UCSC. “I’m [still] waiting to see if I get hired at Porter [College] to create another branch of the service-learning movement on campus,” he says. By expanding his teachings, he hopes to spur future generations of students to actively participate in community service outside of school requirements.
One of the things that keeps people from giving back to the community, says Williams, is the overwhelming feeling that there are too many problems to solve. The way to combat that, he says, is by starting with baby steps.
“You have to do grassroots stuff,” Williams says. “We have to have these little victories. We shoot for the moon, we shoot for all this elaborate stuff, and then we don’t make it and then we’re depressed. But [we] can do this day-to-day stuff.”
For more information, visit kresge.ucsc.edu/academics/service-learning.html.