Communiversity’s work with children hits 20 years

Sonja Haynes Stone was not in attendance at the 20th anniversary celebration of Communiversity, the educational outreach program inspired by her work. The beloved professor died unexpectedly in 1991, leaving behind Carolina students and colleagues who would find themselves changed by her example.

In 1992, a handful of students at the Black Cultural Center (now the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History) honored her by starting Communiversity in a cramped 900-square-foot corner of the Frank Porter Graham Student Union.

Their “Saturday college” model was a direct lesson from Stone. Each Saturday, they transported children from a community housing project to Carolina where they provided help with schoolwork and an introduction to college academic and social life.

Twenty years later, Communiversity reaches students at six local elementary schools, three days a week.

The available space grew in 2004 when the 44,500-square-foot Stone Center opened its doors. This year the program added an after-school site at Carrboro Elementary to reach more students. And the handful of volunteers – ranging from education majors to student-athletes – has, at times, been more than the center could accommodate.

On April 20, Communiversity marked its 20th anniversary with a celebration that included musical performances, past and present participants, parents, volunteers and staff. State Superintendent June Atkinson attended and gave special remarks. To honor the program, former UNC basketball player Brendan Haywood made a $10,000 gift via the Brendan Haywood Single Parent’s Family Fund, his first gift to UNC.

“(Stone) was one of those people in the academy who was at the beginning of service-oriented initiatives on campus,” said Joseph Jordan, director of the Stone Center. “She believed educational endeavors at the highest level should never become detached from the community outside campus.”

If Stone could have been here for the anniversary celebration, she would already have been a step ahead, Jordan said. “She’d have said, ‘OK, 20 years, that’s good. But what can we do next?’”

Read more about Communiversity.

Published April 24, 2012.