Partnerships that Bring Lasting Impact with Stacie Freeman

Partnerships are best developed when two (or more) people or entities realize they can make a bigger impact by working together. This partnership, between Bethel University and Bright Light Volunteers is one of those. Stacie Freeman, shares her perspective on what’s gone well, as well as a couple of learning experiences.

Key points include:

  • Relationships Can Lead to Partnership Opportunities;
  • Volunteers Pay Their Own Way – and Contribute to Project Costs;
  • Avoiding Band-Aids and Striving for Lasting Impact;
  • More Than a Feel-Good Trip, It’s About Building Understanding of Complex Issues;
  • The Importance of Learning to Let Go to Let it Grow;
  • Recognizing Complementary Strengths in Your Partners;
  • Universities Can Be a Source for Volunteers and Other Help;
  • Define Your Dreams – and Follow Them.
Stacie Freeman & Catherine Greenberg

Global Citizenship Education for Title 1 Students in the Rural South

Via a unique partnership between Bright Light Volunteers (BLV) and our educational partner Bethel University (BU), BLV’s innovative approach to cultural immersion and global citizenship cultivation is being utilized to impact the lives of rural, southern, Title I high school students. We have conclusively shown that our programs, particularly our programs that serve high school students from the rural south, are having profound effect in improving retention and college acceptance rates through cultural immersion, international study and service initiatives.      

The global citizen is aware of the wider world, has a sense of their own role as a world leader, respects and values diversity, and participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global (Oxfam, 2015).  In our experience, global citizens and leaders are most successfully cultivated through high-quality, rigorous education coupled with sustainable-international service.  

Historically, Title I students in the rural south have had limited access to global citizenship education and to the multiple intellectual and social benefits of participation.  Therefore, a strategic alliance between Bright Light Volunteers, a global nonprofit organization, and Bethel University, a SACS accredited college of liberal arts, has been established to support the U.S. Department of Education’s Purpose for Title I schools, “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged” by “closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.” (2004)    

Through this partnership,  64  Title I, high school students have enrolled in a Global Service Learning and Citizenship (GSLC) course at Bethel University for transferable college credit.  Upon completion of the course, they traveled to Cuba, Peru, and/or Costa Rica where they continued  learning concepts and skills necessary to function in a world that is increasingly interconnected and multicultural.  State-funded grants, such as the Tennessee Hope Scholarship, have helped fund tuition.  Private scholarships and sliding scale program fees have helped fund travel expenses.  The result is that rural, southern, Title I high school students are becoming first-generation college students and global citizens.  

These Gen Z students, also known as digital natives, expect their education to include technology-driven course work. By designing and delivering an online course, using the Canvas LMS, students learn the history and culture of the host country as well as the importance of becoming an ethical, global citizen.  Students in the course read scholarly articles and texts, watch timely documentaries, participate in academic discussion, and become familiar with the UN Global Goals.  They complete quizzes, create blogs, and write reflection essays.  Combined, these assignments are designed to prepare participants for their study abroad experience (decreasing culture shock) and ultimately, college.  While we believe in the power of technology to educate the next generation of global leaders, all our programs for Title I students are staffed by at least one secondary educator and one college professor.  All BLV staff and educators are extensively trained in Best Practices.  

Since the inception of the BU/BLV partnership, we have seen a 233% increase in the number of Title I participants.  100% of participants graduate from high school and attend college.  When asked, in online, post-GSLC surveys, to rate their knowledge of the historical, political, scientific, cultural, and socioeconomic interconnections between the USA and other parts of the world, 98% agreed that participation in the BU/BLV GSLC program had deepened their understanding. 



Last year, when Ryann was a senior at Pleasant Valley High School, she was awarded a privately-funded scholarship to participate in a Bright Light Volunteers program to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. When Ryann found out she had been awarded this all-inclusive scholarship, she dreamed about the food she would try, the sights she would see, but most importantly, the impact she hoped to make.

In Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, Bright Light Volunteers works in the Zambiza Dump. This community, of roughly 300 families, survives on the dump, mining what they can find to sell. In 2006, a daycare was opened in the Dump community in order to keep children away from the dangers of the Dump. Since it opened, this daycare has relied on volunteers to care for the children and also renovate the dilapidated building.

For Ryann, the children of the Zambiza Dump made a huge impact on her life, admitting that sometimes it was easy to forget that her tiny hometown isn’t the only place that exists. She says, “I don’t think I truly knew, before this, that putting other people before yourself is an inevitable path to joy.”

Since her program has ended, and she has completed her first year of college, studying Global Leadership, Ryann has started her own mission to help children in her community. Ryann’s Art Camp was created in April, 2018 for children ages 7-12.


Bright Light Volunteers Goes to Harvard

Harvard’s Think Tank on Global Education has invited Stacie Freeman, Bethel University professor and Co-Executive Director of Bright Light Volunteers, to be at the forefront of testing and developing cutting-edge curriculum to advance competence in global studies, in classrooms, schools and school districts via participation in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education program.

Freeman states, “Participants in Harvard’s Think Tank will be sharing and learning ways to foster global competence in our schools by co-constructing curriculum, developing educators and devising a strategy for systemic change in global education.” 

As a participant in the upcoming institute, Freeman will take part in “a dynamic, large-scale collaboration to create and adapt lesson plans, and scale global education” for students in the rural, Southern, Title I schools where she teaches.

Historically, Title 1 students in the rural south have had limited access to global citizenship education and to the multiple intellectual and social benefits of participation. Bethel University and Bright Light Volunteers initially partnered to support the U.S. Department of Education’s Purpose for Title 1 schools: “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged,” by “closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.” (2004)

Although Freeman has already devised and implemented a curriculum which capitalizes on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, she is eager to learn more and to use that knowledge to help “level out the playing field” when it comes to access to global education.

Catherine Greenberg, Founder & Co-Executive of Bright Light Volunteers is excited about how Freeman’s participation in the institute will strengthen the educational aspect of the Dallas-based nonprofit’s student global service learning programs.

Greenberg offers, “Being able to improve how we implement our signature pedagogy in global education and provide teachers with the tools to design global service learning experiences is an enterprise that will change lives.”

Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the field and online coursework through our university partner. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.

Founded in 1842, Bethel University is a nonprofit institution that is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Bethel University’s mission is to create opportunities for members of the learning community to develop in a Christian environment their highest intellectual, spiritual, and social potential. This includes synchronous and asynchronous modes of education.


Why Should You Travel Abroad?

Whether you’re a busy college student like myself or you work a full-time job, with the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, the idea of travelling seems almost out of reach. However, I encourage you to take a step back and consider all the possibilities the world has laid at your feet. If you find yourself on the edge of a decision to travel abroad or not, consider these benefits.


Travelling Is Educational Travelling abroad gives you the opportunity to see the value of other cultures. It gives you a new understanding of the world’s people and might even shift your perspective on how the world works. Maybe the way you have been looking at global issues is not the only way! Going abroad and experiencing this first hand is a deeply educational, life-changing experience. You can read as many books as you want but you will never truly understand the world outside your walls until you go experience it for yourself. And how impressed will colleges, grad schools, and future employers be when you add a study abroad experience to your resume? It certainly speaks volumes about your ability to think outside the box, navigate new / uncomfortable situations, and behave in a culturally competent manner.


Travelling Builds Connections Never underestimate the power of a connection. Each person you meet has the potential to change your life. Whether it is someone you meet on the street or someone you roomed with at a local hostel, everyone has potential to become a friend. I met one of my very closest friends on a plane ride home from Ft. Lauderdale. Travelling is also a great way to expand your professional network. As the world gets smaller, it’s more important than ever to have connections outside your local area.


Travelling Promotes Growth With travel, comes spiritual, intellectual, and social growth. When you experience the beauty of the world, you find new ways to refresh your soul. Being in a new place can test your ability to adapt to difficult situations and thus hone your problem solving and critical thinking skills. These skills will not only serve to help you, but others as well. As travellers, we are better able to see the connection between the local, national, and international and have an improved understanding of our role as global citizens and leaders in solving the world’s problems.


I am in awe of the many wonders that are continually laid out before us. Travelling has given me endless opportunities to spread love, make memories, build connections, and grow to my full potential. I want to encourage those who are unsure about international travel. This short list contains just a few reasons to say YES to making the world a brighter place through international travel and education. Do it!!!