English professor promotes kindness through service learning project

May 2, 2024Neesha Hosein
Dr. Bryan Corbin and students create cards for seniors.

Dr. Bryan Corbin's lifelong bond with his grandfather inspired him to create a service learning project that has touched the lives of thousands of senior citizens nationally.

The San Jacinto College South Campus English professor Google searched his bright idea, “letters to senior citizens,” which led him to several organizations that performed the service.

“I emailed over 50 of those organizations asking if they needed help with writing letters to senior citizens, and all of them said yes, but none of them could provide the material and postage to make it possible for me to implement a letter-writing project into my classes,” Corbin said.

Bring Smiles to Seniors

A representative from one of the companies advised him to contact the Bring Smiles to Seniors project founder Ron Tyson.  

“They gave me his information, and voila, a project the college and I could afford was born,” Corbin said.

Tyson agreed to fund the cards and postage. This meant Corbin would have a self-sustaining project at no cost to the College. Corbin introduced the project in fall 2022, and students wrote almost 1,500 cards. Since then, he’s managed to expand participation districtwide.

“Other professors are now participating by having their own learners write greeting cards to fulfill course requirements,” Corbin said. “Additionally, various clubs and organizations now have meetings dedicated to sending notes to seniors.”

As word spread, some students have even taken extra cards home to have their children or family members write encouraging notes to seniors. The project has almost reached 8,000 cards completed.

“One of the founding principles of the Bring Smiles to Seniors program was to ensure that children and students were involved in our program to teach them the importance of remembering those that paved the way for us,” Tyson said. “Our partnership with San Jacinto College helps us stay true to that principle. Dr. Corbin, staff, and all participating students at the college, serve as a shining example of what can be done when we take the time to care for and remember our seniors." 

Quotes about BSTSIn the name of kindness

Corbin’s goal was to bring service learning into his classroom. Even better, the project teaches kindness, something about which he is passionate.

The greeting cards project is meant to encourage students to learn, discuss, and write about kindness by reading “The Five Side Effects of Kindness” by David Hamilton. The students then put what they learn from the book into action by writing greeting cards to seniors. 

“I believe educators have a responsibility to use the podiums they helm to make the world a better place, so I try to give my students meaningful opportunities to serve others while still meeting course objectives,” Corbin said.

After reading the book and writing their heartfelt messages in the cards, students get to see the principles of kindness come to life.

Jeff McGee, department chair for fine arts and physical education and art professor, saw a golden opportunity to for his students to blend classroom learning with the real world.

“As a visual art and design faculty, I am always looking for ways to bring the classroom into the real world,” McGee said. “[I saw a way] to give my students a tangible and purposeful direction for their creative energy. When my colleague Bryan Corbin presented the idea of sending hand-created cards to seniors, I jumped at the opportunity and worked it into my Design class the next term. Bryan promptly delivered a stack of cards that his students had written but lacked a memorable, hand-made visual component. 

McGee presented the project to his students on the first day of class. In groups, they discussed and analyzed design terminology before applying their determinations directly on the cards.

“The students found the work to be stimulating, with many of them commenting that they ‘wanted to do a good job’ since the cards were going to be delivered to a real human being, McGee said.”

Students rarely show their artwork outside of family and friends, so this project “nudges them away from that shyness and gives them a platform to jump into the course content.” He explained the assignment is a direct lead into their first major project and establishes the use of industry-standard vocabulary throughout the term.

“This assignment will be a staple of my courses moving forward, and I have Bryan Corbin’s initiative to thank for that,” McGee said.

Quotes about BSTSHopes for the future

All the cards are sent to Bring Smiles to Seniors headquarters for nationwide distribution, but Corbin strives for greater involvement close to home. Finding local senior facilities willing to participate has been a challenge.

He hopes to spread the word and increase participation locally so he can someday reach a goal of 100,000 cards every year.

“This past spring semester when I introduced the project, I had a student come up to me in tears at the end of class,” Corbin said. “She told me that later that day they were putting her mother in a nursing home, and she thanked me for creating the project. This really touched me and helped bring the project to life even more for me.”

Learn more about Bring Smiles to Seniors.

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