Iscol program marks 10 years of inspiring students to serve
Since she graduated from Cornell, Chakira Branch '08 has dedicated herself to serving inner-city youth as a volunteer in her hometown of New York City.
In 2009, she was sworn in by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as one of 193 members of the inaugural group of New York City Civic Corps, a program to support local nonprofits and to grow the city's volunteer ranks. Branch spent a year recruiting volunteers for the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program run by Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC. She later aided in the development of Bigs United and High Impact Alliance, two new organizations committed to mentoring young people.
Branch says her drive to serve youth started in 2007 at Cornell, when she interned with The Renaissance University for Community Education (TRUCE), an after-school program in Harlem. The experience "opened my eyes to many of the unfair disadvantages that youth have in urban communities," says Branch, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Ever since, she has been drawn to "teach youth the values of education, activism and commitment to their community."
Branch's triumphs as a community leader are the sort of success story that Jill and Ken Iscol, a 1960 graduate of Cornell's ILR School, hoped for when they funded the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service in 2001. Based in the College of Human Ecology, the program seeks to inspire and educate Cornell students to become leaders in civic engagement through internships and annual campus visits by luminaries in public service. The Iscol Summer Internships in Public Service program formed in 2007; to date, Branch and 45 other Cornell students have worked with community groups in underserved areas.
On Sept. 26, the Iscol program marked its 10th anniversary, welcoming Josh Tetrick '04, chief executive officer of 33needs, a micro-credit Web platform that allows everyday people to invest in social enterprises around the globe, as Cornell's annual Iscol fellow. Tetrick met with students interested in social entrepreneurship and delivered a public lecture, "Connect Your Future to Change."
Tetrick said that having to decide on either a career or a quest for social change is a false choice and described "thriving" as a third option that "encompasses the whole spectrum of living an integrated life." He encouraged those in the audience to get involved with companies that work toward change.
Following Tetrick's talk, Jill Iscol spoke about her book, "Hearts on Fire: 12 Stories of Today's Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action," which was inspired in part by her experiences in the program and her interactions with Iscol fellows and students. "With a little luck, we'll start to connect the dots, and all of us together can start to have a huge impact on the quality of human life around the globe," she said at the event.
John Eckenrode, co-director of the Iscol program, credits the Iscols for supporting a program that "builds on a strong tradition of public service at the university and among our students."
"Our students learn that service goes far beyond volunteering -- that to build and sustain a successful public service program calls on all the talent, vision and energy that leads to success at any other profession," adds Eckenrode, professor of human development and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. "We hope that the small seeds sown with this program will grow in many vigorous and exciting ways once our students leave Cornell."
Among the notable speakers in the annual lecture series have been Michelle Rhee '92, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools; Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength; and Ken Grouff '93, founder and former co-executive director of City Year New York.
A version of this story will appear in the fall issue of Human Ecology Magazine.