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  • The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning
  • Susan R. Jones
The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning, edited by Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth A. Tryon. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009. 211 pp. $26.95 (cloth). ISBN: 978-1-59213-995-8.

In 2000, accomplished service learning scholars Nadinne Cruz and Dwight Giles posed the question, "Where's the community in service-learning research?" Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth Tryon's The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning brings one of the most comprehensive responses to that question to date. Based upon the findings from interviews with 67 staff members of community organizations, the authors provide compelling evidence addressing the impact of service learning on those presumed to be the beneficiaries of such activities—community organizations. Of course the irony in the service learning literature base is that service learning would not exist without community service organizations as partners. Further, much of what is emphasized as central to service learning such as reciprocity, mutuality, and partnerships implies a relationship with community organizations. However, we know very little about whether or not this is actually accomplished and the perceived benefits of service learning from the perspective of community service organizations. Stoecker and Tryon provide service learning scholars and educators with insight into these questions by "amplify[ing] the unheard voices of community organization staff in the service learning relationship" (p. vii).

The Unheard Voices is organized into 10 chapters and an epilogue. These chapters represent the results of interviews of community organization staff members conducted by students in a research seminar and then drafted by those students. Although the chapters represent the findings of this research focused on the perspectives of community service organization staff members, each chapter also stands alone. In the first chapter, Stoecker and Tryon frame the larger context for the study by addressing the question, "Who is Served by Service Learning?" and describe their process for collecting data to address this question. They point out that there is much "institutional hype" (p. 1) surrounding students engaged in service learning but very little attention on any positive impact on communities by either institutions or the service learning research community. In this chapter they introduce the idea of "the dialectic of service learning" to suggest that unintended negative consequences accrue with a primary focus on student learning to the exclusion of community outcomes. This analytic lens becomes the framework for what follows in illuminating the unheard voices of community partners engaged with service learning.

Chapters 2 through 9 represent the results of the interviews with community service organizations purposefully sampled as small- or medium-sized nonprofit organizations with experience working with students from three higher education institutions in Madison, Wisconsin. Chapter 2 (written by Bell and Carlson) addresses why community organizations participate in service learning in the first place, illuminating their motivations and goals. The authors identified four, sometimes overlapping motives: altruistic motives to educate students about social issues, interest in cultivating longer term commitment to [End Page 785] civic participation, the opportunity to build their own organizational capacity, and the potential to build relationships with colleges and universities. Chapter 3 (written by Garcia, Nehrling, Martin, and SeBlonka) explores how community organizations recruit and select students to assure a good fit with community organization goals and needs. Here they point out the challenges of working with students, particularly those required to engage in community service and for a short period of time. This last factor is the focus of chapter 4 (written by Martin, SeBlonka, and Tryon) and persuasively suggests the problematic nature of most university service learning that places students in community settings for such a short period of time that little benefit accrues to community organizations. Chapter 5 (Gonzalez and Golden) addresses the managerial issues of training, supervising, and evaluating service learning students and points out the huge demand these activities place on community organization staff. In chapter 6 (Tryon, Hilgendorf, and Scott) discuss the essential characteristic of communication and relationship building to effective university-community partnerships. These authors not only focus on the importance of communication but also provide illustrative examples of poor communication. Chapter 7 (Lin, Schmidt, Tryon, and Stoecker) tackle diversity...


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