Indiana University of Pennsylvania students are keeping the Salvation Army of Indiana County's Ark of Learning Program sailing along on smooth waters.

Close to 30 students at IUP volunteered for the program during the 2018–19 academic year. The Ark of Learning offers after-school tutoring, enrichment programming, and meals to school-age children in the Indiana area three days a week.

Teryl Rice offers piano lessons to Ark of Learning student Josh Swires

IUP student volunteer Teryl Rice offers piano lessons to Ark of Learning student Josh Swires, 6.

“Without the student volunteers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the Ark of Learning would be just another after-school program,” Salvation Army Major Geoffrey Swires said. “They are far more than tutors. In many cases they are the only people the children know who attended college. This one-on-one mentoring helps them to understand that higher education is an attainable goal. They are shown a future that might otherwise appear impossible. They don't just give these children homework help. They give them a future.”

During the summer, IUP students, including the 2018–19 program director Megan Richardson, a senior education major from Kittanning, continue to assist the Salvation Army by working at the organization's summer camp program, offered through August 1 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Richardson began volunteering with the Salvation Army as a freshman at IUP in 2017. Because of her outstanding work, she was asked to consider taking on the paid (work-study) position of director, which she assumed in January 2018. Her responsibilities as director included both hands-on tutoring and work with the children, as well as recruiting IUP student volunteers. (Richardson is part of IUP's Community Service Learning Federal Work Study Program, which provides paid employment opportunities at nonprofit agencies in the Indiana area.)

“Professionally, it's been an opportunity for me to get experience as the director of a small school, training people on what they need to do, being a supervisor, creating budgets, doing promotional activities,” Richardson said. “I love working with the students and seeing them grow from year to year, as well as seeing the program grow.”

Emily Eckert, Ark of Learning incoming director, works with student Sara Swires for one-on-one tutoring

IUP student Emily Eckert, Ark of Learning incoming director, works with Sara Swires, 10, for one-on-one tutoring.

Richardson won't be able to work with the Salvation Army during the 2019–20 academic year because of her student teaching responsibilities, but she has that covered. As director of the program, one of Richardson's responsibilities is creating a succession plan. She's been successful in recruiting and training the 2019–20 director, Emily Eckert, of Troy, a junior social studies and education and political science major.

“This is the first ‘cycle' of transitioning between assistant director to director,” Richardson said. “I'm really happy that Emily agreed to take on the director role. I know she'll do an excellent job.”

Eckert, a member of IUP's Social Studies Education Club, needed community service hours as part of the club's requirements. She was recruited by Richardson, started out volunteering at the Salvation Army one day a week, added a second day, and then by fall 2018, was working as the assistant director three days a week through the Community Service Learning program.

“I've been raised with the idea that you need to give back to your community,” Eckert said. “I wasn't sure how things would turn out when I first started as a volunteer, but when Megan offered me the opportunity to be assistant director, and then grow into the director position, it was the right fit. I see, first-hand, the impact that we are making on the children.”

Eckert said that her work with the Salvation Army has helped her both professionally and personally.
“Personally, it's helped me to be very scheduled and use my time wisely. Professionally, it's given me the experience I need to know that I do want to work with children and be a teacher. It's allowed me, as the assistant director, to see behind the scenes how to plan events and activities.”

Since she's a double major, Eckert will be at IUP for the next two years, and she plans on being involved with the program through her expected graduation of May 2021.