Enabling Service

by Rob Valet | 10/10/00 5:00am

As I start to reflect on my Dartmouth career, one of the things I often think about was the wonderful experience I had a year ago in the fall. I received a Tucker fellowship to work full-time as an Interpreter Intern for Spanish in Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

As an interpreter intern, I phoned Spanish-speaking patients to remind them of their upcoming appointments, relayed messages by phone between patients and providers, and even interpreted appointments in a couple of the clinics. I had a fabulous time, and I learned a lot about health care, about the issues that non-English speaking patients face, and about myself.

My experience, which was made possible by the Tucker fellowship I received, was one of the best I have had during my undergraduate years. I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in trying to make the world a better place consider putting together a Tucker project.

But having said that, I fear that some students who would do a fabulous job as Tucker fellows will never have that opportunity, for no other reason than financial realities.

The Tucker Foundation is able to award a maximum of $2,000 for domestic projects, and $2,500 for international work. For students who are on financial aid, as I was, Tucker funds you through federal leave-term work study, which caps at approximately $3,000 per term (before taxes) for even the neediest of students. These awards are considered to be "enabling"-- that is, by design they are intended to cover your living expenses and little else.

In all honesty, I do not consider an award truly "enabling" for ALL students unless it allows them to carry out their term of service and emerge with $3,000 or so left over to help fund their education. In Boston, I shared an apartment with another '01 who was also a Tucker fellow there. Our apartment was by no means luxurious (actually it had some leaking issues when it rained), but nevertheless it cost us $1,500 a month, which is not bad for Boston. We paid three months rent, and so our "enabling" awards of about $3,000 were reduced by $2,250 each, before we even thought about buying groceries and our monthly T passes or paying our phone bill. We pinched pennies all fall to avoid going negative for the term.

Luckily, though, our families could afford for us to break even for the term, even though that meant we would have no leftover money to use during the school year. I realize how lucky we were -- we each had wonderful experiences in our respective volunteer jobs that might not have been possible for other students because of money.

The Tucker Foundation is one of the organizations on campus most dedicated to helping students, among other things, reduce inequality in the world around us. It seems strange to me, then, that the powers that be would not fund Tucker at a level sufficient to allow any student, regardless of financial situation, to undertake a Tucker Fellowship, or any of the related Tucker-funded leave-term service opportunities, like Dartmouth Partners in Community Service or the Urban Summer Program in Newark.

My article is not a criticism of Tucker or the College. Everyone whom I talked to in the Fellowship Office prior to and during my fellowship was extremely helpful and supportive, and the fact that Tucker already DOES have a substantial amount of money to grant students for service projects speaks well of Dartmouth. However, while students who undertake a leave-term service project certainly do not plan on making a lot of money, I still consider it unfortunate that some students must automatically rule out a term of service learning because of finances.

A grant that was truly enabling for all students would be large enough that, even after paying a term's living expenses, the student would still make about as much money as he or she would have made staying home and working -- so that money would never dictate the student's choice. To me, this means the grants need to be on the order of $5,000 or $6,000 per student.

This would represent an increase of two- or three-fold over Tucker's current per-student spending -- so for Tucker to continue to fund as many students, its total grant budget would need to increase commensurately. I appeal to anyone who could make this happen -- whether administrators in charge of budgeting or alumni interested in giving back to the College. My Tucker fellowship was a fabulous, life-changing opportunity that I sincerely hope, in the future, will not be denied to students who depend on their leave term earnings to help pay for college.

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