By Melanie Cain
If you’re interested in helping to make the world a better place, there is simply no better place on campus to give your time, efforts, and talents than the UIS Office of Student Volunteers, Service, and Civic Engagement. “The single most valuable thing this office provides is the opportunity for me and students to contribute in whatever small way we can to make a positive change,” says Patricia Robertson, director. “The students, community supporters, partners, and people with whom we share our service experiences bring a joy to my small world that I would not otherwise know and am continually grateful for.”
The goal of the office is to connect service and learning to social justice and civic engagement while also fostering responsive, reciprocal partnerships between students, faculty, staff, and community. “We seek to actively engage students in service and learning experiences that will contribute to their development and understanding of leadership and civic responsibility,” says Robertson. “We also seek to grow and expand campus and community partnerships and to broaden the campus/community connection.”
The office has been in existence for approximately four-and-a-half-years. It was started as a part-time initiative through a grant and has grown into an office with a full-time director, a 50% community liaison, and one GA position.
Robertson has been serving as director since February 2004. Previously, Associate Dean of Students Jeffrey Maras had assumed these responsibilities, and he still helps out on a regular basis. The office will also be getting a 50% AmeriCorps person in the near future. In addition to the other assistance she provides, Alisabeth Manzoeillo, the GA, lives in LRH with the Living Learning Community and is responsible for providing oversight and guidance, as well as community leadership, for this new group of students.
The Living Learning Community is one of the office’s latest projects. It is a designated area of LRH where students who are committed to volunteer and service have applied to live in order to build a community dedicated to these core values. The students meet and plan service events and assist with activities that are planned through the office as campus wide initiatives. One event the group planned was the October 25 Blood Drive, which was extremely successful because of all the student support.
The office has also received an AmeriCorps/Campus Compact grant that has provided the opportunity for nine students to participate as STAR fellows. Each fellow performs 300 hours of service over the course of the year, earning work study wage, and receives a $1,000 education award upon successful completion of the program. The office also has an ongoing partnership and commitment to Washington Middle School in Springfield, providing volunteer assistance, parent involvement coaching, and programming for sustainable outcomes.
Robertson explains that most of the recent hurricane relief efforts that took place at UIS were student driven and organized. “Students went to Louisiana to help clean up after the hurricane, collected food and clothing to send to victims, and organized a carnival to raise funds for relief efforts,” she says. “There are also approximately 20 students planning an alternative spring break to go to a Habitat for Humanity site to help rebuild.”
National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week
The office is currently in the process of planning, coordinating, and sponsoring a full schedule of activities for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, November 14-19. There are many different opportunities for individuals to participate.
•Monday - There will be a panel presentation and open dialog lunch in PAC G from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. with representatives from Contact Ministries, St. John’s Breadline, and the state advocate for homeless children.
•Tuesday - The movie “Taylor’s Campaign,” a film about hunger and homelessness, will run continuously in the cafeteria. The students are also planning an Ox-Fam hunger banquet in the PAC restaurant at noon.
•Wednesday - The students will host a “Food for Thought” letter writing campaign to state legislators and members of Congress.
•Thursday - The “Who Cares?” t-shirt contest will take place. Students will be given t-shirts and fabric marking pens and will ask people to sign their shirts for $1 per signature. All proceeds will benefit local shelters and food pantries.
“There is never a shortage of need for volunteers, and the needs are constantly changing,” says Robertson. “I encourage anyone interested in volunteering to contact me and I will provide them with a list of current projects as well as ongoing opportunities.”
To contact Robertson, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 206-7828, or stop by the office at SAB 60.