Through interacting with and serving their communities, students in the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Human Services Delivery and Administration (HSDA) program are making a lasting impact while positioning themselves to be career-ready upon graduation.
This summer, dozens of HSDA students are working in their communities to distribute food to children through the Bright from the Start program, which is administrated through the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and sponsored by UNG. The program will serve hundreds of meals across north Georgia to children in need, helping fill the gap left by school meals, which children do not get during the summer.
"Experiences such as working in the food distribution program help our students learn how to manage and administrator large scale human service programs," said Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, professor of human services and sociology. "They become familiar during the process with how to work with federal programs and how to meet federal and state compliance guidelines — they would not get this kind of experience anywhere else as students. In addition, through working with the program, students are learning how to cultivate and work with community partners, supporting our communities in new ways, building leadership skills and developing innovative approaches to service and care."
UNG's HSDA program is accredited by the Council for Standards in Human Services Education and is the only nationally-accredited bachelor's-level human services program in Georgia. This accreditation means that in their upper-level courses, UNG students complete 200 hours of field experience, making them eligible to sit for the credentialing exam immediately after graduation. Elfenbein estimates that more than a dozen UNG students will be involved in the food distribution program this summer, and several UNG graduates have already been hired for special tasks over the summer.
Samuel Holly, a recent graduate of the HSDA program, said that his time working in the food distribution program was an eye-opening experience.
"I was living in Buford and only going to Gainesville to attend class, but this opportunity allowed me to see another side of Gainesville," Holly said. "Not only that, but it gave me the opportunity to act as a leader, as I was constantly stepping into different positions."
Holly had various responsibilities that included keeping milk and other perishable foods at safe temperatures, picking up and transporting foods, managing shipping lists and distribution. He also undertook driver and supervisor training.
"It feels good to know I had a hand in growing UNG's involvement in this program, and to see the impact and spread my actions have had," Holly said. "As I worked, I also got opportunities to engage with some children at our locations. Though I eventually want to be a family and marriage therapist, I realized this is something I really enjoy doing on the side. This is a great way for students and alumni to get involved and give back through donations or service."
Holly and three fellow students also created "Bridging the Gap," an initiative that supports grandparents who are raising their grandchildren by donating food and educational materials. The initiative was created through a $1,000 mini-grant offered by Elfenbein through her course on grant-writing.
"Their presentation for Bridging the Gap was very impressive, and I know they will do great things with it," Elfenbein said.