Davidson College alumni often point to specific experiences during their time on campus and describe them as life changing. Maybe a professor encouraged them to think in an innovative way. Maybe a friend taught them something new about relationships. Maybe a student organization made them feel more welcomed than they had ever felt in the past.
Perhaps Don '39 and Anne Stapleton Davidson did not realize they were creating life-changing opportunities when they established the Stapleton/Davidson Urban Service Internship Program in 1989. All they knew is that they wanted to create an experience that was consistent with the founding purpose of Davidson and that lasted more than a day or a week. They also wanted students to get paid through cash, housing and some transportation services.
"I'm Scotch-Irish, so I'm always looking for ways to get $2 worth of value out of every $1," said Don Davidson. "Partnerships were the way to make that happen."
Twenty-five years later, the internship program continues to thrive. Each summer, five students are placed in social service agencies where they experience full-time engagement among the urban poor in Charlotte. They meet weekly with the college chaplain and local religious leaders to reflect on issues of faith, social justice, scripture and the role of the church in responding to the concerns of the urban poor.
A past intern had this to say about the experience: "I was placed in the very heart of homelessness, heartache, and hopelessness, working with men who have been drug dealers, or addicts, or have just gotten out of prison. As I got to know them, I felt an incredibly strong connection, becoming good friends with an ex-gang-member, a mentally handicapped individual (who made my day every day), and a man who had spiraled heavily into depression. I felt my whole outlook on myself and my life begin to change."
"This internship consistently helps students develop a deep understanding of the realities faced by impoverished neighbors," said Rob Spach, Davidson chaplain. "The experiences and relationships have been transformative, often helping students to grow in their own Christian faith, clarify their sense of vocation and make life choices that reflect God's concern for people who live at the margins of our society."
Today, Don Davidson supports the program through current-use gifts and by provisions in his estate plans.
"I have said many times that I could never repay Davidson for what it did for me," said Davidson. "When Anne died in 2005, we sold the principal portion of our last business. We have always believed in giving, and a primary thing we wanted to do was establish something at Davidson that would be lasting and would do in the lives of students what Davidson did in my life."
Davidson's involvement in the program has far exceeded the dollars given. He entertains the students at the end of each year so they can share experiences and stories. Additionally, each student is required to write a report at the end of the internship-a way to document the experience and to outline how the internship could be improved in the future.
"I still have every single report that has been written," said Davidson. "They are very special to me.
"Really, I haven't done anything to deserve any praise," he continued. "What I've always wanted is for Davidson to remain faithful to its founding purpose. I think this experience is life-changing for some of the students, and it doesn't hurt anybody along the way."