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Service-Learning Brings New Faces, Fun Projects to Pike Market Senior Center


Pike Market Senior Center is fortunate to partner with The Carlson Center at the University of Washington and with the Service-Learning Program at Seattle Central College as a site for students to live out their service-learning requirements. Both partnerships began in 1992. Since that year, we have welcomed hundreds of students into our senior center community.

The presence of service-learning students has had a positive impact on our mission and on the lives of senior center members. The beginning of each new academic quarter brings the prospect of new faces and fun projects. Senior center members have the opportunity to meet energetic, interesting students from across the country and around the world. They become co-educators, supporting each student’s coursework by putting a human face to the issues they are studying. The service-learners arrive full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to meet a variety of new people and learn from them. We frequently hear how much our members enjoy meeting and working with the students.

Pike Market

The benefits of service-learning, viewed creatively, are many. Service-learning students can bring additional resources, energy, new ideas, and positive challenges to the accomplishment of our mission. These partnerships increase our organization’s name recognition; add racial, cultural, and age diversity; and sometimes provide technical assistance.

The magic that happens when students meet older adults is very evident to us. These encounters most often increase the feeling of self-worth among our members. The idea that a university student is coming to them for information that will enhance what they are learning at school is very satisfying for a person who may feel kicked to the margins of society due to age, poverty, race, poor health, and all the other reasons a person ends up living on the edge at this stage in their lives.

We are able to welcome service-learning students from a variety of courses. The following list contains brief descriptions of some of the projects that have taken place here.

Project A
Course: Geographies of Global Inequality, University of Washington
Service Activity: “The Geography of Fair Trade Coffee and Chocolate” class
Activity Description: An honors student from the Geography Department developed and taught an eight-week class for senior center members that explored the political, geographical, and human aspects of the fair-trade coffee industry. At each class, senior center members were able to sample coffee and chocolate from the areas being studied. There was a celebration and certificate presentation at the end of the eight weeks (see photo at top).

Project B
Course: Geography of World Hunger and Resource Development, University of Washington
Service Activity: Oral history project
Activity Description: Service-learners explored the senior center members’ relevant life anecdotes and experience against the background of the student’s course work. Interviews took place during two- to three-hour weekly visits at the senior center. Senior center members felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. Students completed the project by writing a paper that combines course readings and notes with the information obtained from the interviews with the senior center members. In the 10th week, elders and the service-learners had the opportunity to say thank you and good-bye.

Project C
Course: Anthropology: Comparative Study of Death, University of Washington
Service Activity: Facilitated discussion exploring cultural aspects of death and dying
Activity Description:Service-learners spent two to three hours a week for six weeks interacting with senior center members of diverse cultures to learn their views on death and dying. The following four weeks were spent organizing and presenting a panel discussion at the senior center. The event was advertised throughout the senior center. Elders participated on the panel and in the audience, voicing a variety of cultural perspectives on this important topic.

Project D
Course: English Composition: Social Issues, University of Washington
Service Activity: Interaction with senior center members to learn their experience with important social issues
Activity Description: Service-learners developed interview questions that gave elders the opportunity to speak about important social issues. The service to the elder is to provide her/him with an attentive listening ear and an opportunity to be a co-educator. The student used research and the perspectives gained in the interviews with the senior center members as material for writing for the course.

Project E
Course: Photo Illustration II, Seattle Central College
Service Activity: To photograph people and activities at the Pike Market Senior Center in order to provide images to the organization that can be used for website, brochures and other publicity needs.
Activity Description: The service-learner created a portfolio of photos and graphics that could be used to communicate the organization’s identity when fund raising and marketing. This was accomplished by studying the mission and services of the organization, interviewing the staff and observing life at the senior center.

Model F
Course: Sociology; Introduction to American Culture – a course for International Students at Seattle Central College
Service Activity: To discuss American culture with a diverse group of senior center members
Activity Description: Equal numbers of students and elders gather for a roundtable discussion of American culture. Elders have the opportunity to share their life experiences and viewpoints gained while living in the United States. The roundtables also offered the elders the opportunity to interact with students from all over the world. International students have the opportunity to enhance the course work by listening to and interacting with a diverse group of elders. The roundtables took place both at the senior center and in the classroom.

Contributor Zoe Freeman is Wellness-Engagement Coordinator and Head Figlet at the Pike Market Senior Center. For more information about the center, visit

Service-Learning Resources

Implementing Service-Learning in Higher Education

Key Components of Service Learning

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

Nine Principles of Community-Campus Partnerships