By Michelle Lee, UCSC Communications Intern
Row after row of students march down the street in crisp red and white uniforms and blue plumed hats, never missing a step. They expertly spin their wooden rifles with straight faces and straight backs. Seconds later, they break into a fluid, high-energy hip-hop dance.
No, this is not the military or a high school marching band. This is the South Shore Drill Team. Founded in 1980, the South Shore Drill Team is a non-profit organization that engages inner-city youth in passionate, productive activity—from hip-hop dancing to color guard performances—so they develop strong values and relationships; steer clear of drugs, gangs, and violence; and transcend the disadvantages imposed upon them by their surroundings.
“We want people to understand that it’s a lot more than entertainment in terms of what we’re teaching the kids,” said Sara Vlajcic, Administrative Director of the South Shore Drill Team. “[We teach] values such as teamwork, leadership, discipline, [and] punctuality… employability skills for once they leave here.”
The program also places a strong emphasis on academics, monitoring members’ school performance and connecting them to tutoring services. Members cannot miss more than 10 days of school or fall below a C+ average. If they want to stay on the team, they have to work for it.
Is the intensity worth it? The answer is a resounding yes: 100%of the Team’s high school members graduated this past year, in comparison to the 60.6%graduation rate—the highest yet— for Chicago Public Schools, as indicated by former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.
Despite their success, the Drill Team is understaffed and looking for university students to help with tutoring, mentoring, and scholarship research. Vlajcic emphasized the last point in particular. Many of the Drill Team members do not have access to scholarship or financial aid information, without which they cannot apply for or afford higher education. Having volunteers help with scholarship research is thus crucial to the kids’ success. “We’re looking for volunteers who could help [the kids] think about their experience on the Drill Team [and use that information for their essays],” Vlajcic said.
For these reasons Vlajcic recently signed up to participate in UCSC’s Service Match Program. Service Match matches UChicago undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with an ongoing volunteer activity to support the missions of organizations close to campus. It allows students to not only have more meaningful interactions with community members, but also work on challenging, skill-based projects.
Since the program started last spring, Service Match has more than doubled in size, growing from two community partnerships to six with over 75 student volunteers. Two of those partners will be matched with professional and graduate students enrolled in the Harris School for Public Policy and the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, while the other four will be matched with undergraduate student communities, such as houses and Greek organizations.
The expansion was largely motivated by the program’s success with undergraduates. Crystal Coats, UCSC Community Service Advisor and administrator of the Service Match Program, saw interest arising outside the College. “We were contacted by a couple different graduate divisions to get [students] involved,” she said.
In terms of how Service Match will manage the two student volunteer pools, the undergraduate portion will be “more about building group experience [and] having a chance to go out into the community and give back,” while the graduate and professional portion will be “more specific to informing and complementing [the student’s] field of study and career path,” said Coats. She hopes that the new expansion will allow more students to have the opportunity to participate, while broadening UCSC’s scope in the community.
During the program’s pilot last spring, May House and Thompson House were matched with the YWCA on 66th and Cottage Grove, which runs an economic empowerment program for women. Student volunteers reviewed resumes and cover letters, conducted mock interviews, and helped YWCA members set up LinkedIn profiles. Thanks to these efforts, a few of the members were able to secure jobs.
“[It was] a wonderful opportunity to explore life beyond the University of Chicago,” said second-year Anastasia Kaiser. “I formed close relationships with community members and was proud to be able to make a meaningful impact on the lives of the women I worked with at the YWCA.”
Ultimately, Service Match is a program through which undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can make real change in the community, while enabling non-profit organizations to find the resources and support they need.
For more information about the program, contact Crystal Coats at email@example.com.