Meet Service Learning Coordinator Charles Demler, a 2011 Lawrence graduate with a distinctly different résumé. He still lives in Appleton as an AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America Service Learning Coordinator through Lawrence’s Volunteer and Community Service Center.
Originally from Milwaukee, Demler works at Lawrence University in partnership with the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities to help impoverished citizens with basic needs. Demler majored in Government and worked with the VCSC as a student organization liaison. As a student, he also participated in Habitat for Humanity and was the president of the LU chapter of Amnesty International.
Said Demler, “This year will lay a foundation for extending my relationship with Lawrence long into the future. I didn’t want graduation to be even a break in my relationship with Lawrence. My four years at Lawrence were as life-changing as any promotion would say, and Lawrence will always be very dear to me. This year will help me figure out how I can continue to be involved as an alum on campus in what matters most: social justice and human rights.”
Demler doesn’t live the comfortable life most future Lawrence graduates imagine. He subsists on a wage barely above the poverty line, lives in subsidized housing and buys his meals with food stamps. Living this lifestyle has allowed Demler to learn more about the opportunities available to low-income citizens in the Appleton area.
Living without a car or other luxuries forced him to quickly learn that many basic amenities are hard to come by. Appleton is not a bicycle-friendly place, and with mass transit losing funding, transportation is an issue. Although food stamps are pretty widely accepted, Demler still found problems in buying as wide a variety of food as he might have otherwise enjoyed.
Luckily, the Appleton area does have emergency, homeless and domestic abuse shelters that help provide long-term solutions through social workers and employment agencies. Unlike a typical homeless shelter that simply provides a bed and sends people back out to the streets the next morning, these shelters provide a secure environment, mental and physical health services, and vocational skills training. They also try to find subsidized housing for individuals, which typically costs about 30 percent of their income.
Lawrence students are encouraged to step in and help in the local community. Demler wants the Lawrence community not to think of itself as “purposefully insular,” but to align its interests with the community instead of thinking of it as something extra or separate from students’ learning experiences.
Through the Office of Engaged Learning, students can earn credit in class while participating in a community service project. Demler hopes that this incentive to give back to the community through liberal arts courses will help build a culture of servant leadership throughout LU and Wisconsin.
Looking forward on the professional side of things, Demler plans to take another year off and to get more practical experience with social justice issues. Whether through some sort of public policy, advocacy job, fellowship or public service position, his eventual plan is to head to graduate school for public affairs or public policy. Afterwards, he wants to help move society forward by building robust organizations to fight poverty, secure human rights and build a more just world.