What could we accomplish if we worked together?
That was the theme of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions welcome event, SERVECON, which brought together nearly 200 freshmen and transfer students embarking on careers in public service.
“When you come into a path of public service, you are saying, ‘I am interested in a course of study that is about creating public goods, creating shared resources and building things that are enjoyed as a community.’ You are doing something quite profound,” Dean Jonathan Koppell said, welcoming the students to the college.
The new students will be joining the college’s four schools: School of Community Resources and Development, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Public Affairs and the School of Social Work.
Joining a community
It was the first day of an education that immerses students in hands-on learning and community engagement. Through internships, Community Impact Labs, service learning classes and undergraduate research, students in the college gain practical experience working with community organizations.
“We believe you learn public service best by doing public service,” said Cynthia Lietz, senior associate dean. “Our students have countless opportunities to be engaged in work that builds stronger, more vibrant communities whatever their individual passions may be.”
Shea Brutinel is pursuing a degree in social work and is part of the Public Service Academy’s Next Generation Service Corps.
“A social worker saved my life, and I’ve seen the good they do in the community. That’s what I aspire to be,” she said.
Jason Mancia said it was school bullying that led him to a degree in criminology and criminal justice.
“I know that feeling about wanting to help people, to improve their situation — regardless of whether I get any benefit,” said Mancia, who is also in Barrett, The Honors College.
But none will have to go at it alone.
Students were inducted into the Community Solutions Cooperative (Co-op), a collective of faculty, students and staff all with a common goal of making the world a better place through innovation in public service.
“I love the idea of all of us being connected. The biggest thing is that you can’t do it alone. It takes so many people,” said Germaine Arnone, who is pursuing her social work degree at ASU’s West campus.
The event culminated with inspiring words from Denise Resnik, who was named Community Service Champion. The annual award was started last year to recognize and honor people who have made an impact on the community.
“The real lesson here is the gap in who gets recognized in the realm of public service: people who see a problem and don’t lament it and move on to the next thing. They see a problem and take it upon themselves to solve it,” Koppell said.
“For those of you who doubt whether one person can make a difference — and whether you can take on a significant problem and move the needle — this will change your mind,” he said.
After graduating from ASU, Resnik embarked on a career in real estate, got married and turned her attention to motherhood. She had a daughter, then a son.
“I counted a girl, a boy, 10 fingers, 10 toes. What I didn’t count on was autism,” said Resnik.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by social impairments such as limited communication skills and difficulties forming relationships. At the time of Resnik’s son’s diagnosis, the incidence of autism was 1 in 2,500. Today it is 1 in 68.
“There weren’t a lot of resources then. I poured my heart and soul into trying to help Matt be all he could be,” she said.
She joined a mothers’ support group, noting one table became two, then eventually filled an entire coffee shop.
“It got to a point where we decided we needed to do more than just meet,” she said. “Twenty years ago this year, we formed the Southwest Autism Resource and Research Center. Our goal was to ensure that individuals with autism and their families would be supported throughout their lifetimes.”
Today, the Southwest Autism Resource and Research Center (SARRC) is a global resource for people who are trying to develop better tools for parents and families of people with autism. Their work inspired PBS NewsHour reporters to dub Phoenix the most autism-friendly city in the world.
More recently, Resnik has launched First Place, a community for adults on the autism spectrum. She says it is “a bold vision to ensure that housing options for people with autism and other neurodiversities are as bountiful as they are for everyone else.” Community leaders came together to break ground for the central Phoenix center in December 2016.
Koppell said, “Denise has created a welcoming community that embraces people who are different. It is a community that creates opportunities for others. That’s a public good.”
“The human part is an exceptional individual, who through sheer force of her own will, her own ability to get others excited about doing something important, has been a transformative figure. That, to me, is the essence of what it means to be a community service champion,” he added.
“We present this award at SERVECON because we don’t want anybody in this room to feel that all this preparation and classwork is for some later time. Your ability to serve starts today,” he said. “I am eager to see the journey that you choose for yourselves and how you set about creating public goods that you find important.”