Women Involved in Living and Learning (WILL) is committed to combining coursework in women, gender, and sexuality studies with learning outside the classroom.

For four years, students participating in the WILL Senior Seminar have been working with the Flagler Home of St. Joseph’s Villa, a transitional shelter for homeless women and their children.

"Through readings, meetings with community experts, and programs with the women and children at the Flagler Home, students gain empathy and understanding about homelessness," said Dr. Holly Blake, director of WILL.

"Interacting with the women, children, and staff at the Flagler Home put real faces, names, and stories on the sometimes distant reality of homelessness," WILL senior Alexandra Rooke said.

The University’s partnership with St. Joseph’s Villa is longstanding. Students involved with the Richmond Families Initiative, a program of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, support a range of St. Joseph’s Villa programs.

"The connection isn’t always made between gender and homelessness, but the Flagler Home was willing to work with us to create unique learning opportunities for our students," Blake said.

This November, WILL and St. Joseph’s Villa shared this community-based learning model with scholars from across the country at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Conference in Atlanta.

Rooke and fellow WILL senior Katherine Schmidt; Katina Williams, program manager at the Flagler Home; and Katherine Peiper, child services coordinator at St. Joseph’s Villa, joined Blake in leading a roundtable discussion, "Building Effective Community Classroom Partnerships."

The team discussed their work together and emphasized how community engagement inspires learning – both on the part of students and community members.

"Community-based learning courses are excellent for taking broad and abstract issues, like homelessness, and making them real and concrete for students who would have otherwise felt removed from solutions or social change," Schmidt said. "It was great to see so many other NWSA members participate in our roundtable discussion. I'm really glad to have had this experience as an undergrad."

WILL students will continue to partner with St. Joseph’s Villa this semester, building on the programs of previous classes and engaging with the women and children of the Flagler Home in new ways.

"Deeper knowledge of social problems through hands-on experience is central to reenergizing the social movement imperative in women, gender, and sexuality studies," Blake said. "Students are then able to connect theoretical and practical work."