The article below was written by Jonathon Epstein, Transition Developer, Adult Day Services

This spring semester’s Pace University Service Learning Project was a great success despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor James Lawler and Pace University responded swiftly to the new virtual learning environment and students missed no classes, with Zoom becoming their new classroom. For more than a decade, Dr. Lawler’s classes have partnered with numerous AHRC New York City programs in its biannual service learning projects. Each student in the class is paired with an AHRC NYC partner as they work together to create a custom website highlighting the talents, skills, and interests of the AHRC NYC student. v

In many ways, this digital platform was more conducive to a website development class than a physical environment.  Each session, all 45 students were given the opportunity to screen-share their sites and receive feedback from the professor, AHRC NYC’s Estefania Flores (Middle High School), Jonathon Epstein (ADS), and their peers. This level of feedback and sharing has never been possible in the past and resulted in top-quality websites.

Professor Lawler was thrilled with how well this semester went. He said, “Despite the pandemic affecting the engaging mentoring program between AHRC NYC and students of Pace University, both people with disabilities and the students continued to be engaging interactively on person-centered projects in the semester. The finished projects of personalized websites by both of them were completed with exceptionally great pride.

Gaining Confidence

The hard work put in by Pace University students, in spite of the terrible circumstances, was not lost on their partners.  Major McEachin from Betty Pendler New York League partnered with student Thomas Neary on his website. “It’s another door opening and gives me the opportunity to showcase what I’m about and my progress,” Major said. “I learned to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or you won’t amount to anything because I gained so much confidence by being a part of this and sharing my music.

Although they only had a few weeks together, Pace University students and their AHRC NYC partners were still able to develop meaningful relationships. This was largely due to the openness and dedication of this semester’s exceptional students. “Fahim Khonder is a great person to be around,” said Pace student Jacob Gonzalez. “He’s not only a hard-working individual but he also has a very creative mind.  When Fahim and I weren’t working on his website, we were talking about the NBA and movies. His energy is contagious and his smile can light up an entire room.  Fahim is someone I’m going to remember for the rest of my life!

More than half of the people enrolled this semester got a chance to connect with their partners, review their sites, and practice for the final presentations, which went very well. The Pace Service Learning Project’s online success provides a huge silver lining to this new age of remote services.