At 3:15 on an overcast Wednesday in January, Helen Hailes eases her yoga class into their first Warrior One Pose.
"One of the first rules of yoga is that nothing should hurt," she says. "You want to focus on your breathing."
The four women who have come to Woodlawn’s Living Room Cafe for Hailes’ yoga practice laugh. "I never knew my muscles were so tight," Tracy Jacks, 26, says, stretching her hamstring as she pulls her left foot toward her chest.
More participants come and go throughout the hour and a half-long practice—some frequent the Cafe, which doubles as a poverty resource center, and others, like Jacks, just saw an ad for free yoga classes in the window. Hailes patiently reminds them all to relax and breath.
Hailes is one of the 20 second-year students in the Community Service Leadership Training Corp. who are participating in volunteer internships with various Chicago-based public service organizations this year — their jobs range from education policy research at the University of Chicago to serving a warm breakfast to people who can’t always afford to buy food on Sunday mornings.
Hailes says she began teaching yoga at the Living Room Cafe, a nonprofit poverty resource center just four blocks south of campus, because she saw the classes as an opportunity to challenge and comfort the center’s clients.
"For some it’s almost a spiritual experience, for some it’s exercise, for some it’s therapy," she says. "I try to leave it open-ended in class. The people I’m working with are dealing with situations like foreclosure and homelessness, and I want this to be a place where they can relax and let go of things."
Though she says 64th street and Cottage Grove Avenue can seem like "another world" for some students who don’t regularly venture south of the Midway, the yoga class gives her a new opportunity to connect with some of the University’s southern neighbors.
"The people in the class want the same things out of yoga that I want," she says, "Maybe my ankles have been bothering me, my legs are stiff, I want to stretch them out."
Data, from the researcher to the classroom
Hailes and fellow second-year members of CSLTC discuss the successes and pitfalls they encounter during the internships at weekly meetings. According to Akshaya Kannan, who interns with the education policy research consortium Chapin Hall, two popular subjects of debate are the merits of direct service internships that interact directly with needy populations, like Hailes’s, and indirect research-based internships.
"Chapin Hall is research-based, and I definitely struggled with that disconnect," she says. She thought about volunteering inside a school, but a Spring 2010 public-policy class on child poverty in the public school system inspired her to contribute to education policy research instead.
"We really got to the bottom of matters: the sociological causes of poverty, how they effect education and learning. Each week we talked about different components of that. Gangs, how gangs effect kids, socioeconomic disparities. The KIPP model, the Harlem Children’s model, and how they are and are not effective," she says.
Her daily tasks include observing Chicago Public School classrooms and compiling data in her office.
"Being involved in Chapin Hall, I can really see, how do they create this data that we’re looking at in class?"
From gardening to community-building
8 miles north of campus, Teddy Kent is also tapping into past coursework to make the most out of his internship.
This winter, Kent is creating a guide to community gardening on behalf of Open Lands, a non-profit whose mission is to create and preserve nature spaces in Illinois. His weekly duties can range from organizing a plant give-away in Englewood on Chicago’s southwest side to planning monthly gardening classes in the Open Land’s downtown office, to negotiating with the Chicago Police Department for the use of fire-hydrants to water the gardens.
As a public policy major, Kent says studying local communities with limited access to food has highlighted the value of community gardening in Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods, particularly Englewood.
"In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s Englewood was the site of some pretty bad urban decay. Houses were torn down, and as a result there are tons of empty lots in the neighborhood," he says. Community gardens are one way to fill those spaces with new life, but he has also learned that gardeners also face complicated issues of community-building, ecological risks, and the scarcity of fresh food.
"I would definitely say this [internship] has come to inform my studies," Kent says. "What I learn about Englewood right now I’m able to go back and compare to what I’ve read. That’s been my goal with the internship and CSLTC—putting the stuff from the classroom into practice."
Rachel Cromidas (AB '11) is a fourth-year in the College.