Marilee Scaff

Turning Ideas into Service

Photo courtesy of Elicia Epstein.

Photo courtesy of Elicia Epstein.

“Community service has certainly been the underlying theme of both our lives,” said Marilee Scaff, an educator, community activist, and United Board supporter. She and her late husband, Alvin, went to the Philippines as Congregational missionaries in 1940 after finishing degrees at Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago. In the decades that followed, the Scaffs found ways to help young scholars – in America, Asia, and Africa – connect their academic interests to the needs of surrounding communities.

“The growing involvement of colleges and universities in experiential learning – community service, internships, international exchanges – makes a remarkable contribution to the education of young people. Putting ideas into use helps scholars correct and refine theoretical knowledge,” Dr. Scaff said in a recent interview. “That is so ingrained in me that it is hard to say where it came from.”  That belief guided her, after earning a PhD in educational psychology and counseling, in her work with teachers, social workers, counselors, probation officers, and judges on issues related to children and adolescents. It continues to guide her, at age 99, as she advocates for protection of water and environmental resources in her California community. “Learning by doing is a sound principle for both growing children and thoughtful adults.”

Service-learning develops values as well as knowledge and practical skills. “Service-learning is increasingly recognized for its importance in the education of college and university students and faculty,” Dr. Scaff said. “Every student needs this experience; every college or university should encourage it. If some of this time can be spent in a country other than one’s own homeland, it is even better.”

Building understanding across borders is an interest Dr. Scaff shares with the United Board. “One of the really significant contributions of the United Board’s work in Asia is its sponsorship of faculty exchanges among Asian nations, so that  many colleges are contributing to building a new generation of scholars who know and understand their neighbors and are learning to work together for the good of all. As far as I know, the United Board is the only group that focuses so much of its program and its budget on these exchanges. That is a major reason I think it is the most worthy of all educational efforts for my financial support.”

(First published in Horizons in December 2014)