AmeriCorps Spotlight: Drake First-Year Student Brittany Freeman

Brittany Freeman of St. Louis, Missouri studies Law, Politics and Society and Anthropology-Sociology (with a minor in Spanish) at Drake University, but she’s even busier outside academia.

When she was applying for colleges just over a year ago, she received an email from Drake about a program called the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC). At first, she disregarded the message.

“During that time, you get so many different emails from different organizations and colleges, and you think it’s just more college propaganda,” Freeman said. “And then I clicked on it and actually gave it a minute. An internship? As a first-year? My dad said, ‘You should do it!’”

The ECC is a fairly new program at Drake that incorporates service learning into a first-year student’s college experience. The student is expected to partner up with a community organization and complete a weekly hour requirement of 8-10 hours in somewhat of an internship set-up, and they also become permanent AmeriCorps members after accomplishing their end goal of 300 plus hours of service.

“My acceptance into this program was a deciding factor for going to Drake, because it does offer a bit more of a scholarship, but also it offered an experience I could have as a first-year that I couldn’t have anywhere else,” Freeman said.

When deciding which organization she wanted to pair with, she thought about her greatest passions within the realm of social justice. She ended up partnering with Anawim Housing, an organization that helps struggling individuals and families find affordable housing.

“After working with Anawim Housing, I have a new appreciation for understanding poverty and understanding the systematic and social forces that lead to poverty and keep people in poverty,” Freeman said. “That’s also tied to racial dynamics and racial justice and inequalities in our world.”

Anawim also has a homeless outreach sector that benefits homeless people with chronic disabilities, Freeman says.

Freeman stressed the importance of what she called the Housing First Principle, an ideal she adopted after learning more about Anawim’s work.

It’s “this idea that home is everything. In order for you to be stable in your life, they think the first thing that needs to come is a house, and then once you have a house, that’s when you can start looking for a job, and then you can start tackling the issues that are presenting in front of you,” Freeman said. “But if you’re out on the streets, you’re never going to be able to get that job, you’re never going to become stable and be able to provide for your family.”

Freeman’s partnership has caused her to take a step back and appreciate how privileged she is to have a place and a structure to call “home.” That’s part of what this program has been about for her—recognizing her own social standing and using it for the good of others.

“This program has been an opportunity that has launched so many other things for me on this campus,” Freeman said. “I think, had I not been in it, I don’t know how much I would’ve gotten involved in. Of course, there are so many other people on this campus who have pushed me to do so, but having that support within the [Community Engaged Learning] office has definitely been motivational.”

As part of the ECC program, Freeman took a few classes alongside her fellow ECC members, including a first-year seminar called The Common Good, which focuses on volunteerism, service, and the challenges that come with serving vulnerable populations as a person of privilege.

The well-rounded experience of the ECC has definitely shaped Freeman’s first year of college for the better.

“My favorite part of the program is stepping outside of myself and seeing people on a more real-life basis and seeing how they are affected by the social forces that exist within our country and within our social systems,” Freeman said. “But even more than that, I just enjoy working with people and spreading this idea of meaningful service and being intentional in your actions.”

As an avid service worker in high school, she knew she wanted to continue giving back to others when in college. But at this higher level of commitment, Freeman’s gotten much closer to community issues and intensified her passion for lending a helping hand.

“Doing service in high school was all about doing what you’re told and then just leaving, never actually reflecting on it,” Freeman said. “Never seeing, okay, so why are we doing this? Why is this a problem? So, this program offered me a chance to actually analyze what goes into a service project, especially from a nonprofit standpoint.”

Part of the ECC program requires Freeman to recruit volunteers of her own. She garners a lot of participation through her sorority at Drake—Kappa Alpha Theta—for which she is the service director. She’s also on two different Student Senate committees and the secretary of Delta Theta Phi, a professional fraternity for undergraduate law students.

Freeman’s especially passionate about juvenile justice, and she hopes to become a family law attorney someday.

“For me, law is an outlet where you can fight injustices,” Freeman said. “Some people don’t see it that way, but I think a lot of things stem from law that aren’t necessarily positive. The only way to fix that is to be in that system and try to correct it from within.”

As is probably obvious by now, Freeman’s never been someone who sits quietly aside. She prefers to take action.

“Being in this program has been an outlet for me to do so,” Freeman said. “I have an opportunity to change things on this campus and think critically about certain issues. Sometimes I have to remind myself, ‘Brittany, you are only a first-year. Calm down. You have three more years to do things.’”

The ECC gave Freeman the opportunity to attend a civic engagement volunteerism conference earlier this spring called IMPACT. She learned some important lessons at this conference, and it continued to push her to think about the quality of service she offers her local community.

She recognizes how easy it is to be swept up in the micro-community of a college campus, and she encourages other Drake students to branch out and get involved in the greater Des Moines area, as well.

“There’s this quote that was said: ‘Community service has to be less about random acts of kindness and more about strategic acts of justice.’ So through this idea of community service, you can achieve more than just opening a door for somebody,” Freeman said. “You can open the door for somebody to a whole new life.

“Continuing to spread that message that, we don’t serve because we have the responsibility to, we serve because we have the privilege to, because we’re granted that seat at the table,” Freeman continued. “Because we have these resources of being at Drake University, because we are all intelligent human beings. We have the privilege to give back; we have the privilege to use these resources in a way that benefits more than just our campus.”

You can read more about the ECC on their blog site, for which Freeman wrote a post about her experiences with the program, or on Volunteer Iowa’s recent program feature. To learn more about supporting the efforts of Anawim Housing, visit their website.

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