During the fall 2018 semester, graduate communication students in Deanna Shoemaker Ph.D.’s, Communication, Culture, and Community course participated in a service learning and community engagement partnership with local nonprofit Konscious Youth Development and Service (KYDS) in Asbury Park, New Jersey. KYDS, co-founded by Monmouth alumni Mychal Mills ’11 ’13M and Rodney Salomon ’10, works to prepare future leaders in Asbury Park, Neptune, and the larger Monmouth County region through a variety of programs and services that are grounded in holistic wellness.
As a part of Shoemaker’s communication course, students studied community-based research methods and learned more about KYDS’ mission and the history of Asbury Park. They took part in several KYDS events and met with leaders from Interfaith Neighbors, KYDS, and the Boys & Girls Club to discuss gentrification.
Students also participated in several creative expression workshops with KYDS youth at the Monmouth University/Lakehouse Music Academy shared space in Asbury Park, and conducted interviews with youth about gentrification, their sense of community, their experiences with KYDS, and their hopes for the future.
“As their [KYDS’] community partners last semester, it was incredible to work with the youth of Asbury Park in expressing their individuality and experiences,” said Monmouth graduate student Taylor Morelli.
In December 2018, Monmouth students presented their academic research—inspired by the theme of positive youth development—at the Lakehouse space.
Yunlin Zhou, a graduate student enrolled in Shoemaker’s class, said that the opportunity to spend time in the local community was particularly impactful. “From the KYDS evening meditation class, to meeting with community leaders, to the workshops and interviews—these are all experiences that have allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. I actually ended up learning a lot about myself during this class, and I will always carry those lessons with me,” said Zhou.
Shoemaker said that the KYDS partnership, which was supported by an Urban Coast Institute Faculty Enrichment Grant, had many benefits that extended well beyond the classroom.
“This unique and transformative learning experience aspires to break down the walls of the university and bring campus and community into meaningful relationships that contribute to the wellbeing of all community members,” she said.
As a Service Learning Faculty Fellow at Monmouth, Shoemaker was inspired to develop a collaborative, mutually beneficial, and sustainable partnership between communication students at Monmouth and a high-impact nonprofit in the local community. Specializing in performance and cultural studies grounded in social justice and community building, Shoemaker was intrigued by KYDS’ focus on mindfulness, holistic intervention, and creative expression for young people who may be experiencing various challenges in their schools, communities, and families.
Over the summer of 2018, she got to know KYDS by meeting with Mills and Salomon, attending their community yoga and meditation classes, serving as a guest artist in their Journey Summer Program for middle school students, and taking part in their monthly “One Mic One Soul” events at Kula Cafe in Asbury Park. The partnership evolved into a service learning opportunity for graduate communication students enrolled in the Communication, Culture, and Community course the following fall semester.
Moving forward, Shoemaker’s undergraduate students in a spring 2019 performance-based course hope to share and discuss some of their original performances of socially relevant stories from their lives with KYDS youth, who are working to develop a showcase event in May at the Asbury Hotel that will feature empowering “soul stories” from their lives.