Photo by Martina Almeida
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, students in the Learners with Exceptionalities course, as well as members of the greater Trinity community, gathered in the Fiesta Room to take part in an event centered on service opportunities in the San Antonio area. The nonprofits present at the fair included Sunshine Cottage and RAICES, as well as a variety of other organizations committed to aiding and supporting those in need.
Heather Haynes Smith, associate professor of education, has been coordinating this event for five years in hopes of connecting students in her Learners with Exceptionalities course to service opportunities off-campus. She explained that the key to building lasting relationships with these organizations is consistent, open communication.
“We learn by doing, and if we can connect and make it [service opportunities] approachable and accessible, everyone can set that up. I am intentional with my partners as well, I email them and I make sure we have money to have this event because we are really creating partnerships, and they are inclusive in the sense that everyone is learning,” Haynes Smith said.
The Ability Awareness Fair takes place once a semester to cater to the interests of students taking Learners with Exceptionalities and foster volunteerism on campus according to Scott Brown, assistant director of Experiential Learning.
“[Haynes Smith] has three sections each semester, and teaches two of those three, so when you think about it, that’s 60 students each semester who get this experience — 120 throughout the year, and that helps build the culture of awareness, volunteerism and service-learning,” Brown said.
Sophomore Kirti Balaji explained that she took Learners with Exceptionalities to fulfill her interdisciplinary cluster, the Child and Adolescent Development, and further explore her interests.
“I want to work with children in the future, so I want to learn about child psychology,” Kirti said.
While students taking the Learners with Exceptionalities course are required to attend the fair, the greater Trinity community is encouraged to attend as well.
“We get people from outside the class for sure, the university community comes. We have always made it open for everybody. Don’t be exclusive; be inclusive. That would be my hashtag if I had one,” Haynes Smith said.
Brown agreed that the fair’s aim was to make service opportunities available to everyone on campus.
“We did not want to limit the fair to just students in this particular course, but at least spread awareness that we have all these agencies in San Antonio that have this common mission,” Brown said.
Kirti found the fair to be both informative and inspirational, as it connected her to a service opportunity she finds interesting.
“I went for my class because we had to do a service learning project and volunteer at one of the organizations. I talked to this lady at Sunshine Cottage and she was very nice. It is a school program for people that are hard of hearing. I’m going to apply to be a volunteer there now, and I really liked that part of it,” Kirti said.
During the fair, students in the Learners with Exceptionalities course have conversations with each of the fifteen nonprofits present in order to find one that best matches their interests.
“I don’t know if you have ever been to a career fair, but it can be uncomfortable – this doesn’t have that feeling. One of the things that we do that’s very purposeful that we do is I have them research all these organizations before, that’s their assignment, and I have personal meetings with every student after the fair, because that’s part of the intentional piece,” Haynes Smith said.
The fair encourages students to take part in experiential learning opportunities through volunteerism and service.
“We know that there’s an inner culture of service on campus and we know that there are students and even staff and faculty who are interested in volunteering at organizations that serve people of all abilities,” Brown said.