In Partnership

A sunny beach in Greece

Almost four years ago the College of Charleston Center for Civic Engagement partnered with Earth, Sea, & Sky (ESS) located in Zakynthos, Greece through our Alternative Break Program. (Find out more about that here) In the past four years I have seen students so impacted by the experience that they return to Charleston and change their majors, minors, jobs, goals, minds, and for some, quite literally their whole life trajectory.

The natural beauty of Zakynthos attracts many tourists during the summer. (An estimated 40,000 visitors from all over the world come to the island each summer.) Of course many challenges arise from such an increased population; traffic, pollution, noise, and exponential increased waste, just to name a few. Although tourism is more profitable than traditional industries, its exploitation is detrimental to the countryside and wildlife. There are large amounts of litter being dumped on beaches and in the forests, and the increased hunting is endangering migrating birds. The Loggerhead Sea Turtle and Mediterranean Monk Seal’s habitats are now completely overwhelmed, and people and development continue to impede on their habitats. Earth, Sea & Sky was established in 1993 by Yannis Vardakastanis who became a full-time conservationist in 1991 and has been steadily working to protect the Caretta Caretta Turtles and marine life in and around the island.

The original aim of our service project was to show how conservation and sustainable tourism can work together to benefit tourists, the locals, and wildlife and play an important role in helping to safeguard the future of the Caretta Caretta turtles by helping to provide educational information to tourists and locals. However, it has become much more than that as our students have had the opportunity to begin to understand the complexity of issues involved in balancing environmental concerns in times of economic crisis. Students have the opportunity to participate in meaningful direct service as well as contemplative discussion with the organization’s staff that allows them to experience and understand the social issues at a much deeper level than they ever could in the classroom.

As we continue to work to deepen our partnership with ESS, the Center for Civic Engagement was fortunate to host both Yannis Vardakastanis and project manager, Jonna Hrab Pedersen in Charleston this past March. Yannis and Jonna had the opportunity to meet with staff from the SC Aquarium, SC Department of Natural Resources, CofC professors and students and even had a chance to visit two east coast rescue centers. Over the last few years Earth, Sea & Sky has been raising funds to build a Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Station in Zakynthos so being able to see firsthand the staff and equipment that will be necessary to do this is a crucial step towards completing that goal.

Our trip to South Carolina has been a very good and educational experience. Meeting the students from the College of Charleston and the people working with sea turtles in the area has been amazing. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel and we go back to Greece with hope. Hope is a powerful thing that we have been surviving without for a while. We are amazed with the efforts the Stephanie Visser and her students are putting into conservation and we are pleased to be a part of that. Keep up the good work and we hope to see more of CofC in Greece soon.

We will continue to expand this partnership in mutually beneficial ways and in the future continue to have volunteers, researchers, and interns coming from the College of Charleston to work alongside Earth, Sea, & Sky’s efforts. Are you ready to let yourself be changed? Let us know if you are interested in volunteering as an individual or applying to participate in our Maymester 2016 trip to Zakynthos.

Sandy turtle tracks
Sheep and flowers in Greece
A captured sea turtles

Incarceration of American Youth – Natalie Martin

The school to prison pipeline refers to the national trend of criminalizing misbehaviors that happen in schools across the nation. There are enormous implications for students, in particular male students of color, given the changes in how school culture and discipline is handled across the nation.

School to Prison Pipeline

  • African American students are 3.5 times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled.
  • Black children account for 18% of students, but account for 46% of those suspended more than once.
  • Students who enter the juvenile justice system face many barriers blocking their re-entry into traditional schools, and can be haunted by their criminal records later in life. The vast majority never graduate from high school, and may be denied student loans, public housing, or occupational licenses.
  • While approximately 8.6% of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that impact their ability to learn, a recent survey of correctional facilities found that students with disabilities are represented in jail at a rate of nearly four times that.

Department of Juvenile Justice Statistics

  • On a given day, 70,000 juvenile offenders are held in residential placements.
  • On a given day in SC, between 788-919 juveniles are held in residential placements.
  • There are 1.7 million juvenile cases each year. That is 4,600 per day.
  • Charleston County accounts for approximately 10% of all juveniles detained in South Carolina.
  • 1 out of every 5 youth brought before the court are detained.
  • An estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year
  • African American youth make up 62% of juveniles tried as adults.
  • The racial breakdown for youth in SC detention centers is 66% black, 30% white, and 4% identify as a different race or ethnicity.
  • The gender breakdown for youth detained in SC is 78% male and 22% female.
  • 14 states have no minimum age for trying youth as adults.
  • 365 children have been legally executed in the United States.
  • There are 73 children sentenced to life without parole in prisons today – 49% are black, 10% are Latin@.
  • Of the 73 children sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses, all are people of color.

As one can see from the statistics above, the rates of children involved in the juvenile justice system are staggering. The problem is much larger than just the juvenile justice system. We miss the point if we look at single incidents to try and define the problem. The issue at hand is the intersection of multiple systems that are steeped in historic racism that perpetuate inequity in the world today. After the murder of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Brittany Packnett said, “Education did not save Mike Brown. Racism killed him.” That truth can be applied to many historical and current events. The events during Red Summer, the lack of accountability for the white instigators in those events and numerous others, the abuses against people of color and the lack of any types of reparations, Jim Crow and the history of lynchings, the foundation of our public school system and the current school to prison pipeline, housing disparities, income disparities, the fact that white high school graduates still out earn black college graduates today are all connected and are one much larger systemic injustice caused by white supremacy. In some ways there is this beat the odds mentality about students of color, but that is the wrong mindset. We must change the odds, but that will require those with power and privilege to educate themselves, give up power, be uncomfortable, and stop perpetuating the same forms of oppression that our country was founded on.

So that begets the question, what can you do when the problem is large and deeply rooted in our history. While it can sometimes seem that small things won’t make a difference, the AAST 300 class, in collaboration with the Charleston County Department of Juvenile Justice, is tackling an issue that will hopefully have a large impact on the youth detained in the juvenile justice facility in North Charleston. After a recent trip to the facility, our class noticed the limited number of books in the detention center’s library and decided that was something we could help change. In addition to increasing the number of reading materials, we also raise awareness about the current context of the juvenile justice system and the school to prison pipeline.

We are collecting paperback books for kids ages 10-18 between now and April 17th. If you have any books you would like to donate, please drop them off in the box located in the Center for Civic Engagement, Room 203, Lightsey Center.

The Experiences of Madeline Ryan – Nashville Tennessee

Every spring break students find new and exciting ways to spend their week sabbatical from academic studies. The students that participated in the Center for Civic Engagement’s Alternative Break program are no exception. Alternative Break is a program that hosts student-led trips during academic breaks. It provides participants with hands-on experience in social justice issues while immersing them in new cultures. This year the College of Charleston had five trips to various parts of the country and the world.

Here one of the participants, Madeline Ryan, articulates her experiences in Nashville, TN on a trip titled Artistic Abilities: Abilities, disabilities, and the arts in Music City. Click on the headings for each day to visit her blog and read more.

Day 1

This week, I’m participating in what’s called an alternative spring break. Through CofC, I along with 10 other ladies are heading to Nashville to work with and learn from art organizations that work with people with disabilities. Our trip is called Artistic Abilities.

Day 2

Inside the basement, we got a tour from the director of the Parthenon! She was so excited and knowledgable about every aspect of the history of this site. For those of you who don’t know, Nashville had an International Exposition in 1897, celebrating its 100th year of statehood. Huge temporary buildings representing and celebrating cultures from around the world were built. Everything from pyramids to the Parthenon, fair games to exotic cafes, and a women’s building to a Chinese village were constructed. Though this fair was supposed to be a way to educate people who might never get the chance to travel, accuracy was not emphasized but rather our American stereotypes of different cultures. However, the main focus of the exposition was on the idea that Nashville is an “Athens of the South.”

Day 3

At a long country farm table in the back, we meet Leisa Hammett. Leisa is the mother of an artist with autism, the one who runs her daughter’s art business, and a volunteer advocate for issues dealing with artists with disabilities . . . She started to talk about the start of her realization that her daughter had a passion for creating art and about starting her daughter’s business and the obstacles that she has overcome. She talked about how difficult it is to be running a business and raising her daughter by herself. She also talked about how difficult it is on the national level to find support for artists with disabilities: she is thinking about how she will combat the laws against getting disability support if her daughter’s business starts making too much money. What was really neat was that she did talk about disabilities, but she was talking like any other art business manager would be about his/her origins and issues.

Day 4

My group . . . timidly peeked into the room at the end of the hall. This room had day patients from a center called Clover Bottom Developmental. These individuals are on the most severe end of the spectrum of intellectual disabilities. Most all were in chairs and a couple were hooked up to feeding tubes. The staff and nurses introduced us to all of them and their little quirks: someone didn’t like to be touched, someone laughed when you pretended to trip, someone loved to tap their feet to music, someone would want to just to be left alone.

During our dancing activities, one of the leaders filmed us. Our activity is part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of this organization called VSA which is a state organization for arts and disabilities. This video will be exchanged with a partner in Austria, who is videoing a similar jazz activity. These videos will be put up online as a lead-up for the main celebration in July in DC. We are one of sixty countries represented in this celebration.

Day 5

This morning we went back to the Rochelle center to mainly observe a music therapy session. As we crowded into the back of the small room, the young woman picked up her guitar singing “Hello, I’m glad to see you” to each of the individuals in the session. These individuals were on the moderate to severe spectrum. One individual would just smile up at the ceiling when she would sing his/her name, another would cover his/her face saying “Don’t scare me!” and another would acknowledge that she was singing his/her name but not want to interact with her. There were about 5 participants. During the session, she would do simple activities like “shake your tambourine when I sing the letter that your name starts with…and the letter is __” Or “let’s shake our tambourines really softly…now really loudly” While some had to continually have help to reposition the tambourine in their hands, one individual was so excited during a song that he stood up and shook his tambourine up high in the air.

Outside of the Kennedy Center, they have a small playground with cameras where they note the movement and interactions of children with and without autism, all who have fanny packs that record audio. They also have a volunteer called a confederate who has a bug in his/her ear to hear instructions given by Dr. Corbett and her research assistants. Even before this project, Dr. Corbett was interested in the interactions of individuals with autism and their typically developing peers. Before coming to Vanderbilt, she started a non-profit organization called SENSE theater. They produce plays with psychology students at the school, children with autism, and typically developing peers from schools in the area. Throughout her talk on her theater, Dr. Corbett continually stressed the importance of pairing individuals with autism with a fellow peer in a safe environment where no one will bully them.

Day 6

So, today was wonderful and sad. Wonderful because we all woke up to snow!! But sad because all of our site visits were cancelled for the day because of the ice on the roads. Today, we were supposed to go back to the Rochelle Center (and I was really excited to serve in another room and have new experiences with new individuals) and go to a dress rehearsal for SENSE Theater.

When we got to Nashville, all of us for some reason, decided to adopt the most country accent you’ve ever heard. But no one else took up this challenge as much as Stephanie. Throughout the whole trip, she hardly abandoned her accent and she feared that it had become a part of her, or maybe that this was her true accent all along…

Charleston, SC- A glimpse of poverty in our community

At first glance of the Charleston community, most see rich history, elegant architecture, a booming restaurant industry and stunning coastlines. What many fail to see is poverty. When asked to consider poverty, many North Americans call to mind images of developing countries without recognizing the poverty in their own backyard.

Poverty is generally defined as the state of lacking the resources necessary to meet minimum standards of living relative to one’s societal context. How does our society identify what is a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or possessions? Each year the federal government uses data from the Census Bureau to calculate what is determined to be the minimum amount of money required to meet basic needs. This poverty threshold is determined by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963. This amount is updated each year for inflation and adjusted for family size, composition and age.  The threshold is then simplified into poverty guidelines that are used to determine financial eligibility for government assistance.  The currently poverty line for a single person is $11,770, for a family of two that amount is $15,930 , and the line for a family of four is $24, 250. The parameters for extreme poverty  in the U.S. is considered to be 50 percent less than the guideline amounts listed previously. Policymakers and researchers often criticize this measure because it does not reflect modern expenses, or account for cost of living variance based on geographic region, nor does this formula adjust for changes in the standard of living. So, why has this calculation not changed?  Simple answer…it’s complicated.

The experiences of poverty amount to more than the financial amount associated with food, clothing and shelter. For some, poverty means not being able to afford the finer things in life. For others, poverty is the absence of healthcare when ill or the lack of access to transportation necessary for gainful employment. When faced with the dilemmas of pay for food or shelter versus medication or childcare, people experiencing poverty have limited options. Poverty is complex – and no one definition fully captures its scope, effects, causes, or solutions. Thus, we must educate ourselves and those around us about these issues facing our communities. In the words of Martin Luther King Junior, “In a real sense all life is inter-related…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So, what does poverty this look like in our community? Check out the Infographic below!

February 2015 Newsletter

Cougars Taking Action

A variety of Valentine's Day cards for Charleston Area Seniors.

Cougars Taking Action is the service initiative component of the Homecoming Spirit Cup Challenge. Each year teams of students compete to show the most cougar pride. Cougars Taking Action provides students with the opportunity to gain points and give back to the Charleston community. While teams are encouraged to participate as part of the Spirit Cup Challenge, individuals are also welcome to join in the fun.

Cougars Taking Action is comprised of philanthropic direct service components coordinated with the homecoming theme. This year’s theme was Unmask Your Pride! The students that participated unmasked their pride by engaging with Senior Citizens in the Charleston area. They created over 200 Valentine’s Day cards for the individuals that benefit from programs and services offered by Charleston Area Senior Citizens Inc. and Dorchester County Senior Citizens Inc. Some students also directly engaged with senior citizens by visiting them at Charleston Area Senior Citizens Inc. and participating in the Dorchester County Senior Citizens meal delivery program.

Recurring Service

The Center for Civic Engagement has instated new recurring service events in conjunction with Lowcountry Food Bank and Charleston Area Senior Citizens Inc. Like all of our events, we will provide transportation, pre-service education and post-service reflection.

Lowcountry Food Bank

Lowcountry Food Bank collects, inspects, maintains, and distributes otherwise wasted food products. These food products are then redistributed to organizations that provide hunger-relief services in South Carolina.

Register to participate on one of the following Fridays 1:00pm – 3:00 pm.

  • February 27
  • March 13, 27
  • April 10, 17

Charleston Area Senior Citizens

CASC helps enhance the lives of older adults in the community through a variety of services. Most CASC programs and services target low income seniors and are offered at no charge.

Register to participate on one of the following Wednesdays from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm.

  • February 25
  • March 11, 25
  • April 8, 22


The Center for Civic Engagement is excited to offer the opportunity for aspiring active citizens to apply for funding to attend a local, regional, or national conference that addresses one or more of the following criteria:

  • Service-Learning
  • Civic Engagement
  • Social Justice
  • o Specific social issues of interest (e.g. environmental issues, education, homelessness, etc.)

If funding is awarded, students will be required to provide typed notes from any sessions attended and materials from workshops, in addition to identifying a concrete opportunity to apply the information learned on the College of Charleston campus and/or in the Charleston community.

Email Maggie Szeman ([email protected] for more information and to apply).

Service Grants

The Center for Civic Engagement is excited to offer the opportunity for aspiring active citizens to apply for funding to offset the costs associated with service-based initiatives in the Charleston community. Costs that can be covered through the parameters of this grant include, supplies (i.e. construction tools, art supplies, food prep materials, books, etc.) related to the service initiative and some travel expenses to and from service sites. Expenses of up to $500.00 will be considered.

Visit to apply.

Upcoming Events

  • Alternative Break Drive-In
  • Alternative Break Trips: April Weekend (April 10-12; Applications available April 9th)
  • Spring into Service

Welcome to the Center for Civic Engagement’s New Blog!

It’s not really new, it’s actually been around for a while, but several changes are in order. To date the Center for Civic Engagement has primarily utilized the blog to market and promote events. Although marketing is still an important part of our success as an office, we recently repurposed our website to address that need and allow our blog to focus on bigger and better, if not equally important, things.

Before we address our blog’s new prospects, let’s revisit the Center for Civic Engagement’s Mission:

The Center for Civic Engagement’s mission is to contribute to the holistic development of College of Charleston students and to cultivate in them a passion for positive social change through the use of education, service, and critical reflection.

The Center for Civic Engagement places equal emphasis on education, direct service, and reflection – a philosophy represented by the triangle of quality service. Each of our student interactions revolve around this philosophy; therefore, we feel our online presence should represent the same commitment. Our dream is that the blog will become a resource for students to educate themselves about social change, and provide a context for students to reflect on their direct service experiences through our office.

New Features of the Blog

  1. Education Posts
  2. The Center for Civic Engagement believes that one of the critical components to resolving a social justice issue is being educated about it. We hope to contribute to the education of our blog readers by publishing biweekly articles about specific social justice topics. We hope to inform and inspire our readers to become active and effective citizens in the community. These posts will be written by a member of our office staff or by a guest who has substantial knowledge about a particular subject. Guest writers can be faculty/staff members at the College of Charleston or members of the community. If you are passionate about a topic that relates to our office’s mission and you would like to publish to our blog, contact us at [email protected].

  3. Student Posts
  4. Critical reflection of direct service events gives our student participants new perspectives, inspires passion, and challenges them to learn and do more. It also requires volunteers to evaluate the impact they have on the community through their service. This is an important part of moving individuals to become active citizens in the community. In order to capture students’ reflections, the Center for Civic Engagement will encourage one or two of the student participants in each of our events to post about their experiences.

  5. Newsletter Posts
  6. The Center for Civic Engagement would like to keep the readers of the blog up to date with what is happening in our office. Therefore we will have monthly posts that reflect on the previous month’s events and programs.

  7. Thematic Changes
  8. In the upcoming months, the Center for Civic Engagement may be testing new visual themes for our blog. This will not affect the content whatsoever but it may affect the user experience. If you have any feedback regarding these changes, contact us at [email protected].

We look forward to this exciting new change for our office through the modification of our blog. We hope that these changes will encourage students to engage in the community, and community members to engage with students. We encourage you, whether you are a student at the College of Charleston, or just a kindred spirit, to read our blog and to engage in whatever community you claim.

A Salute to Veterans

A Salute to Veterans Flyer

Join the Center for Civic Engagement for service to veterans on Veterans Day:

When: Tuesday, November 11th  

(volunteer shifts available 11am-2pm; 4pm-6pm; or 6pm-8pm)

Where: Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

Volunteers will meet at the Center for Civic Engagement (203 Lightsey Center) at the beginning of their shift. Groups will have the opportunity to serve lunch, dinner, and play bingo with  residents in the Patriots  Harbor Community Living Center.

Register: Email [email protected] with preferred shift.

Must register no later than 5pm on Monday, November 10th.


Alternative Spring Break Applications Due October 24th

alternative-spring-break_digital (2)

Visit our website for more information

Step 1: Attend an information session or stop by an information table to learn more:

Information Session

Wednesday, Oct. 8th  at 7:00pm in Maybank 115

Tuesday, October 14th at 5:00pm in Maybank 115

Tuesday, Oct 21st at 11:00am in Lightsey 203

Wednesday, Oct. 22nd at 1:30pm in Lightsey 203

Information Table

Monday, Oct. 20th:  8:30 AM – 1:30 PM at Cougar Mall

Tuesday, Oct 21st: 8:30 AM – 1:30 PM at Cougar Mall

Step 2: Review these important mandatory dates

Step 3: Apply online!

Step 4: Submit your non-refundable application fee of $25 to the Center for Civic Engagement (Lightsey 203)

Alternative Fall Break Applications LIVE

Apply online for one of our three Alternative Fall Break experiences by 3pm on Friday, September 26th.

Want more information?