Saying it wants to serve as well as teach, Utah's fastest growing college Wednesday announced the formation of a program devoted to community service.

Salt Lake Community College officials introduced the new "Emma Lou Thayne Community Service Center" during fall convocation at its Redwood Campus, 4600 S. Redwood Road.Center director Stephanie Petersen said the program was inspired by poet/author Emma Lou Thayne's writings and personal example.

"She has been our role model," Petersen said. "She has written so much about community and caring and has practiced that philosophy on the international scene."

Thayne said she was awed and honored to be "given an honor like this for doing what I love doing."

She also praised SLCC's commitment to service, saying, "I feel there are various kinds of education: One is to learn through service. It fosters a healthy getting out of oneself, feeling the heartbeat of the community."

While administrators, teachers and students in various SLCC disciplines have volunteered their services to the community for many years, the Emma Lou Thayne Center will help coordinate and focus efforts, Petersen said.

"It will allow us to apply the enormous resources of this college to the problems of nonprofit agencies and programs," Petersen said. "We've been experimenting with the idea for about three years, and now we're to take it to another level."

The goal, she said, is to make public service part of the learning process, with faculty members incorporating the concept in the course syllabus and extending the classroom to the community. Students who participate in community projects find the work exciting and rewarding, according to Pet-er-sen.

For example, she said SLCC students and faculty who "adopted" Salt Lake City's Whittier Elementary School, 1568 S. 300 East, have been overwhelmed by the experience. In addition to tutoring the children in math, the SLCC volunteers have taken them on field trips and shared something of themselves.

Thayne herself joined the SLCC group at Whittier, contributing poetry readings to the children. "It was a remarkable privilege," she said of the experience. "There was a real excitement as the children learned something of the power of words."

And she was equally impressed by the enthusiastic efforts of the SLCC volunteers. Thayne said that while the volunteers gave of their time - time away from jobs, classes and family - they got something in return.

"I sensed the reciprocity. They had learned and been gifted," Thayne said.

Patterned after the University of Utah's Llowell Lowell F. Bennion Community Service Center, the Emma Lou Thayne Community Service Center will give college students a taste of "service learning" that will inspire them to "stay involved the rest of their lives," Petersen said.