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SHINE on, volunteers

Aletha Asay '05, Hamilton's Project SHINE coordinator, is hoping to put herself out of a job. If she has her way, SHINE, the two-year-old service learning project offered through the Levitt Center, will become a student leadership program that will continue when grant funding ends.

Project SHINE (Students Helping In the Naturalization of Elders) is a national service-learning initiative at 19 colleges and universities, in which students work with older immigrants and refugees. Students tutor elders in English and teach the U.S. history and civics needed to pass the citizenship exam. The adult learners are from Russia, Bosnia, Burma, Somalia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Project SHINE in Central New York began with a partnership between Hamilton and Utica College and is supported by a three-year grant from Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning and Learn and Serve America.

"I want it to become so much a part of the fabric of Hamilton that it doesn't go away when the grant ends," Asay said.

It appears her wish might come true. This fall, 55 Hamilton students are volunteers at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, the Oneida-Herkimer BOCES Utica Action site and at Matt Apartments. Not only is participation among students increasing, seven professors are encouraging a service-learning experience as part of their classes this semester.

Assistant Professor of Government Sharon Werning Rivera, who included the SHINE program as an option in her Politics of Russia class, thought it was a natural fit for those who wanted to help immigrants assimilate into the community. One of her students, Guillermo "Willie" Artiles '08, participates because he is the son of Cuban-Italian immigrants who came to this country looking for greater opportunities.

"These immigrants serve as inspiration for me and also give me a minor insight into what my parents and grandparents had to go through to become valid and true citizens. My dull Monday and Wednesday afternoons are now exciting adventures helping these brave souls," Artiles said.

SHINE volunteers take a four-hour training class and spend two hours a week tutoring. Some, such as Asay, complete the English for Speakers of Other Languages 12-hour intensive course and six-hour practicum.

Asay sees Project SHINE as a huge benefit to Hamilton students. "Doing this, students see the application of what they're learning in a concrete way." Adds Rivera, "I think the experience stretches them in valuable ways that extend beyond simply the acquisition of knowledge."

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