By: Michele Steinbacher – The Pantagraph
Reprinted with permission
More than 200 students walked into Illinois State University’s volunteer center just this year, inquiring how they might help in the Twin Cities. Hundreds more have joined organized group efforts there, including about 175 who took spring break service trips.
While college students long have been a staple in Central Illinois volunteering circles, leaders at ISU and other area campuses report an upward trend.
College volunteers from Illinois Wesleyan's Kappa Delta sorority make volunteering at The Baby Fold and annual event.
“We certainly haven’t struggled getting people interested,” said Harriet Steinbach, who heads the university’s Student Volunteer Center.
But, what accounts for the growing interest, that’s a mystery, say Steinbach and others. Some attribute the jump to President Obama’s push for public service — and the support he found among college voters. Some credit college-based programs promoting civic engagement and still others believe the trend simply reflects a generational value.
“One thought is this is a characteristic of the millennials. They tend to be optimistic and care about community,” said Steinbach. “They’ve grown up involved and active,” added Sarah Diel-Hunt, a Heartland Community College associate dean.
The growth also may come from service-learning in the college curriculum, she said. “(Instructors) here have seen a shift in this generation, in terms of their desire to have engaged learning be a part of their curriculum,” she said.
Pete Moore, a spokesman for The Baby Fold, agrees the classroom component has helped add volunteers. That Normal agency, which serves children and families, has more than a dozen ISU class groups volunteering on projects at its four sites.
The campus youth bring a certain energy and tech-savvy knowledge that is a great boost to his agency, he said.
Moore and staff at other area agencies have noticed this growing volunteer pool, partly based on college interest. “About two weeks ago, we just had a meeting about that. We’ve had a huge influx of students who want to volunteer,” he said. This month, the United Way unveiled a new database intended to help with the boost in help — matching area organizations and volunteers.
Stacey Rosenbaum, who is part of Epsilon Sigma Alpha, an ISU service sorority, said her group now has 200 members, up from 150 last year. Each student promises to volunteer about 25 hours per semester, she said.
Kevin Clark, associate dean of students at Illinois Wesleyan University, said an interesting trend he’s noticed on that campus is an increase of service-based student groups. Typically, registered student groups include a variety of hobbies or social interests, he said. But new this year is a student group to help Make-A-Wish Foundation, one that addresses AIDS in Africa, and another focusing on using music for charities.
Also notable, he said, is that freshmen start many of these service-based groups.
To Clark, that indicates a new batch of arriving teenagers already plugged in to service mentality, and the ability to sustain the groups past a one- or two-year gig.
At Heartland Community College, in-district high school graduates who land one of 15 possible spots in its community scholars program earn tuition waivers in exchange for community service and leadership training.
College volunteers elsewhere
College volunteers aren’t just helping the Twin Cities — as part of its spring internship fair, Eureka College included a volunteer fair component that allowed students and area businesses and nonprofits to make matches in one setting.
And the Eureka campus also has a community service day for April 25, where community residents are invited to request assistance during the day for home and yard projects, among others. Lincoln College offers a similar community day in the fall, when students help with leaf-raking and other projects, said Danielle Stanley, 20, of Dolton, who attends the college.
She’s noticed more people volunteering, and more projects getting started on her campus. In December, for example, she and others in the Black Student Union babysat so parents could get some holiday shopping done.
For ISU’s alternative spring break program, Steinbach enrolled more than 175 participants; up from 110 in 2007. Groups went to Florida Everglades for environmental work, to southern Mississippi to help with post-Hurricane Katrina projects; to Oklahoma to help the Cherokee nation, and to Boston, to assist at homeless shelters.
A variety of smaller trips were planned as well. For example, the Bloomington-based Our Chinese Daughters Foundation sent five ISU students to Beijing, where they helped special-needs orphans.
Eureka College took a student group to Denver to help build a home; and Illinois Wesleyan University sent 60 students to sites in Tennessee and Texas.
“I’ve been trying to get into volunteering more,” said Amy Grigoletti, 21, of Shorewood, who traveled last week with fellow IWU students to the Cumberland Trail near Chattanooga, Tenn. All week, they used environmentally friendly methods to build walking paths. This isn’t the first year Grigoletti, an accounting major, took part in the so-called alternative break. Last spring, she and classmates worked on New Orleans-area renovations.
She’s also spent three semesters volunteering weekly at District 87’s Bent Elementary School in Bloomington. “I guess it’s because I’ve had a really great experience at Illinois Wesleyan. I feel grateful, and feel like I should give back,” she said.