Tummies growl as the scent of grilling hamburgers floats from the basement kitchen, upstairs to classrooms in Muncie’s First Baptist Church.
“I’m hungry,” one little voice calls out as the smells grow in intensity.
Supper, though, is still at least 20 minutes from ready. So the little ones gather onto the floor for a diversionary story, this one from Dr. Seuss.
The scene plays out more or less the same each week at the church, when Ball State students and faculty join staff and volunteers in Delaware County, working to help some of Muncie’s most vulnerable residents to self-sufficiency.
While the children get to play with, and get assistance with homework from Ball State students, parents work with local groups for help with everything from job applications to exploring education or skill training opportunities.
Melinda Messineo, chairperson of the Department of Sociology and interim associate provost for diversity, has taken students to work in this part of the community for more than five years. That commitment is by design, she said.
“It’s continuity of contact,” Messineo said. “It’s all about those relationships. You can’t hold stereotypes in your head if you see evidence each week or month to the contrary of what others are telling you is true. Obliterating stereotypes takes time.”
But it’s an investment that pays dividends in myriad ways, for the families who are receiving help, as well as for the university students.
“You see the campus and the area around campus and you don’t often see beyond that, and you don’t see the need in Muncie. Being around these kids … they give you their reality,” said John Whitman , ’17, a sociology alumnus from Columbus, Ohio. “A lot of these kids don’t come from much, and we have very different backgrounds. But you find that common ground and work from there.”
Learning different realities is what kept Lauren Hazel, a new sociology department alumna from Brownsburg, Indiana, coming back beyond the 16-week program requirement.
“Being here from the start, you get to know the families, get to know the children,” said Hazel, ’17. “There’s a special bond that gets created. Having an impact on people’s lives, and them having an impact on mine … it’s really opened my eyes.”
The work has left a lasting impression, she said.
“I was so surprised by the need. There are people who work three jobs who don’t have enough food. In so many ways they are just like me, but they are struggling. It makes you realize how lucky you are, and how random things can be,” Hazel said.
“They are just like me, and I want to do all I can to help.”