SU alumnus engages in service-learning from new perspective
Aram Dagavarian knows how new students feel.
The Seattle University graduate (’13, Environmental Studies) started his university studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. In his first few months of college, he felt lonely and isolated—and he wanted to do something about it. “I wanted to get out of my head and get out and meet folks,” Dagavarian said. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself.”
He quickly became involved with a number of student organizations, finding his niche with a peace and non-violence organization and an environmental organization. The students focused on bettering the community around Temple, a theme that has run through Dagavarian’s college years and into his career.
Dagavarian is now a volunteer coordinator for Catholic Community Services’ Volunteer Chore Services in Seattle. He recruits, trains, and places volunteers who do household chores for and build relationships with people living with disabilities and the elderly. Dagavarian’s focus area is central and south Seattle, the neighborhoods he became familiar with during his time as a Seattle University student.
After transferring to Seattle University, he encountered what many SU students do: a service-learning course. Dagavarian, in fact, had two service-learning classes during one quarter, one on religion and ecology and another on leadership for community engagement. He completed his service with the Youth Tutoring Program at Yesler Terrace, another Catholic Community Services project.
Working with YTP allowed Dagavarian to better understand the neighborhood near campus. “I not only saw some of the challenges the community faced, but also the strengths the community possesses to address those challenges,” he said. “It definitely showed where there was a lot of need and where there was a lot of cultural head-bumping, too.” These lessons were especially applicable for his leadership class, which specifically focused on the Yesler neighborhood.
Dagavarian continued his community engagement by founding Just Serve, a program modeled after the AmeriCorps program City Year, which he had worked with in Philadelphia. The program connects college students with high school students around service projects and exploring issues of social justice.
As Dagavarian worked with community partners, he realized the program would create a better experience if it connected with a single community partner for the course of the year. In the second year of the program, Just Serve did just that by working with Volunteer Chore Services. And that connection eventually led Dagavarian back to VCS for his current role.
Now working as a community partner of Seattle University, Dagavarian has a new perspective. “I’m getting a different slice of the community,” he said. He is getting to know the older population, their needs, concerns, and experiences in the community, to see “where it has been and where it is going,” he said.
As a volunteer coordinator, Dagavarian works with service-learning students coming from SU to work with VCS. His experience as a service-learning student helps him to understand what students are going through and the challenges of juggling service commitment with class and other responsibilities.
"They have to really put themselves out there with our program,” he said. Students are responsible for making contact with a client and navigating that relationship, helping them learn “those skills that come with more responsibility of one’s life."
He also knows what students get out of the experience.
Dagavarian admits to not always being excited about the academic side of college as a student, but he was excited about his community projects and groups. “They became the core of my experience,” he said. “I shaped everything around those projects.
“It made college manageable for me.”