Beyond Theory: Harper Promise Already Making a Difference in the Community

Organizations large and small are benefiting from the thousands of volunteer hours being completed by the Harper College Promise Scholars.

The Friends of the Mount Prospect Public Library couldn’t be more thrilled to be the beneficiary of the extra hands and strong backs of the Promise Scholars.

“We hold four major book sales a year. For each sale, we have to haul thousands of books up from our space under the Mount Prospect Public Library to the main level and set up in the library’s two conference rooms. We need a sizable amount of help getting everything from the downstairs to the upstairs,” explained Pat Klawitter, president of the Friends. “The students from the high school who volunteer with us have literally saved our backs.”

chandni and noah promise volunteers

Chandni Vaidya and Noah Northrop, Promise Scholar volunteers

In the past, most of the new volunteers the Friends of the Library were able to recruit were the newly retired – people who had new-found time on their hands and eager to be involved. A great resource for cashiers and organizing the books, but the reality is that putting on a book sale requires a lot of physical labor. The Friends Board was very cognizant that their volunteers were aging and that might hold them back if they didn’t tap into a pool of younger volunteers. Programs like the Promise Scholarship that have a community service component have provided the Friends with access to a whole new crop of volunteers.

Noah Northrop, a senior at Prospect High School and a current Promise Scholar, started volunteering with the Friends at the suggestion of his friend’s mother who knew he needed community service hours for the Promise Scholarship. “I thought it was going to be a grunt job, but the book sales are really fun – better than filing papers,” said Noah. Noah is enjoying working alongside adults, organizing the books, helping people find what they are looking for, and bringing up the books on the Thursdays before the sales and packing up any leftovers on Sundays. “I have worked almost every sale since I started volunteering. I am hooked.”

Chandni Vaidya

Chandni Vaidya

Chandni Vaidya, another senior Promise Scholar at Prospect High School, is also hooked on helping the Friends. She started helping out at the book sales after her father bought 7 pounds of books for under $10 at a Friends sale. “My family loves books and the library. I feel lucky to live in a good community, and giving back in this way makes me feel good.” Chandni is also thankful for the opportunity to earn the two-year, tuition-free Promise Scholarship because she is planning to attend Harper this fall. “I am thinking about majoring in accounting or business, but if I decide to change my major, I like the idea that I won’t be wasting my money or time at a university pursuing something I don’t like.”

Elizabeth Hicks

Elizabeth Hicks, vice president, Friends of the Mount Prospect Public Library

Elizabeth Hicks, vice president of the MPPL Friends, put the impact of the student volunteers into real terms, noting, “We used to be here setting up for the book sales until the library closed. Now, because of these student volunteers, we are finished several hours earlier. We couldn’t be more thankful.”

Pat feels the best way to engage the students in the work is to give them ownership. “I ask them, ‘How would you do this task?’ They come up with ideas we hadn’t thought of before. When they take it on as their own, they get into the spirit of the work. The time flies and they keep coming back,” noted Pat. She believes that asking for the students’ input and taking them seriously is helping to boost their self-esteem and instill a passion for community service. “We are creating a culture of learning how to give back. We are planting the seeds that they will take with them for the rest of the lives.”

The Friends of the Mount Prospect Public Library raises roughly $35,000 a year to supplement the cost of MPPL’s programming and events such as adult book discussions and the library’s recent Fan Fest, as well as extra copies of award-winning youth and teen books to meet demand (yes, children and teens are still reading books!).

The Harper College Promise Scholarship Program offers local high school students the opportunity to earn up to two years of free tuition at Harper if they spend four years working to meet certain criteria, one of which is community service.

The first three classes of Promise Scholars have not yet begun their college career, but they have already completed more than 100,000 hours of community service. To earn up to two years of free tuition at Harper College, each student must complete a minimum of 50 hours of community service while still in high school – starting with 5 hours in the second semester of their freshman year and ratcheting up to 20 hours in their senior year.

The inaugural group of Promise Scholars will arrive at Harper in the fall of 2019. While at Harper, the Promise Scholars must continue to give back to the community each semester to maintain their eligibility for the Promise Scholarship.

The Promise Scholarship program is proving to be an all-around win - a win for the students, a win for local organizations and a win for the community at large.