Each semester Robert Okazaki, professor in the Department of Zoology at Weber State University, requires his students to collaborate with Youth Impact for a service learning project.

Students partner with a fellow classmates, choose a zoology topic and give a presentation to children of Youth Impact, a group dedicated to working with at-risk youth to help them with their emotional, physical and social needs.

Okazaki says that his experience at Berkeley got him involved in helping others. He says he wants WSU students to get out of from under their own little rocks and experience the world around them.

“They may not have all of the luxuries or benefits that most students have,” Okazaki said. “I think it helps to open their eyes, become more aware of the community.”

Okazaki also hopes his students will interact with one another.

“Part of the project beside the point value and to interact with the Youth Impact kids is to get our students to talk to each other in the class and develop friendships,” Okazaki said. “I think we lack that current educational climate,” he said.

This semester, Freshmen Rory Pollard and Austin Keller took a group of kids to Keller’s property to talk about and interact with horses.

The Director of Youth Impact, Robb Hall has been teaming with Okazaki for 12 or 13 years and thought this project was exceptional.

“From my point of view, it’s always a plus to have young adults with good communication skills surrounding our participants to begin with,” Hall said. “Taking them out to an area where they can actually get on a horse and touch the horse, interact with the horse, get on the horse — that’s above and beyond.”

Pollard had done service-learning projects in the past, so his biggest concern going into this was finding a partner.

“Once I got with Austin, we ran through a couple ideas, and this one we both really liked,” Pollard said.

Keller wanted to take the project seriously.

“It was definitely something you didn’t want to take lightly,” Keller said.

Despite the time commitment and initial stress, Keller and Pollard found satisfaction in being able to do the service learning.

“Just having everybody out there, it was awesome,” Pollard said.

“It was really cool to see some of them for the first time interact with a horse. It definitely got them out of their comfort zone,” Pollard said.

Hall thought this project was meaningful because it brought the attention to a diverse group of kids.

“On our end, for them to get away for a time and be together in an intimate, small group interacting with each other, that benefits us huge,” Hall said.

After the presentation, the students are then asked to write a reflective essay.

“I really enjoy reading those reflective essays,” said Okazaki. “A lot of students really moan and complain about doing the project. And then reading the essays, it’s really heartfelt. They really enjoyed interacting with the kids at Youth Impact.”

More information about Youth Impact is provided on their website.

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