At Illinois Wesleyan's recent Founders Day celebration, I talked about the strong support that our university has received over the years from McLean County and the twin cities of Bloomington-Normal. That support was instrumental in our founding in 1850 and at several critical moments in our history, such as in 1919 when local alumni and community leaders pledged $660,000 to help the university construct several buildings and thereby remain in Bloomington rather than relocate to Springfield.
Today, Illinois Wesleyan's connection with Bloomington-Normal and McLean County is as vibrant as ever. The strength of the relationship can be traced to more than 1,800 alumni living and working in the area, 150 students currently enrolled from the county, and an energetic, service-oriented spirit that permeates the campus.
Students, faculty, and staff have put their talents to work in a variety of ways over the past year:
• The IWU Action Research Center connects students and faculty with more than 25 community partners to work on a wide variety of research projects that advance the mission of these organizations, while preparing students for lifelong leadership and citizenship. ARC students have worked with community groups ranging from the American Red Cross, Ecology Action Center, and the Western Avenue Community Center to the STAR Adult Literacy Program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging.
• The joint IWU/ISU chapter of Habitat for Humanity raises money, secures property and builds safe and affordable housing for those in need in an effort to improve the quality of life for many families. The IWU/ISU chapter, identified as one of the most active in the country, is working on its 15th and 16th houses this year and both will be LEED-certified to provide energy savings.
• When the Bloomington-Normal Symphony disbanded in 1985, our School of Music invited community musicians to join the Illinois Wesleyan University Orchestra, which was renamed the Illinois Wesleyan Civic Orchestra. This collaboration between our School of Music and community musicians continues to play out at the renovated Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, which serves as the Civic Orchestra's performance home.
• In 1991, the late Mrs. Corine Simms came to Illinois Wesleyan with the idea of hosting a gospel festival as an annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This marked the beginning of our collaboration with the United Community Gospel Singers, an effort that celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
• Last spring one of our students, Danny Burke, developed a plan to help make fresh foods more available for low-income community members that qualify for SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Working with the Bloomington Farmers Market, he proposed to the state that SNAP participants be allowed to use their Link cards to purchase fresh foods at the market. The program has since spread to farmers markets in nine other Central Illinois communities.
Other examples of the importance we attach to service to this community include weekly efforts of undergraduates to enhance academic achievement of students at nearby Bent Elementary School; the access we provide community members to Shirk athletic facilities; and the commitment that faculty and staff make as members of community organizations.
All of these experiences redound to the benefit of Illinois Wesleyan, contribute to the quality of life in Central Illinois, and perpetuate our service heritage.
-- Wilson is president of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.