By Courtney Westlake
Even before school started, students in the Leadership for Life Service Wing in Lincoln Residence Hall were lending a hand, volunteering for the local Special Olympics.
“Everyone is just genuinely interested in doing volunteer work,” said Charles Olivier, a sophomore who is the resident assistant for the wing.
The Leadership for Life Service Wing is the only living-learning community in LRH and provides residence to 28 first-year and sophomore students. The wing has a new focus this year on both leadership and service, said Kelly Thompson, director of the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center at UIS.
“They really go hand in hand,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to work with first-year students to help build their service and their leadership skills. We want our first-year students to feel comfortable and at home at UIS, and we want them to know that we're here to help them, as well as engage them with the campus and the community.”
Students living in the Leadership for Life Wing have service requirements that they need to complete, as well as several service programs to attend each semester, Thompson said. One of their first activities was a leadership retreat at Camp Cilca, which Thompson described as “very enlightening.”
Besides volunteering at the Special Olympics before classes started, the residents of the wing were also able to work together in service when Senator Barack Obama was in town to introduce his running mate.
“It really tested our bonds with each other; we were out there for seven hours in the heat, but it was a good experience,” Olivier said. “We also all came together in the first weeks and had a party for some of the residents who had a birthday after they moved in.”
To join the Leadership for Life wing in LRH, students fill out an application, explaining why they have an interest in service and what volunteer opportunities they have been involved in.
“The students all have a passion for volunteering and all have backgrounds in service and volunteerism - mission trips to other countries, activities in their communities, awards they've been given,” Thompson said. “They have a wide variety of interests they would like to explore, such as working with animals, children, the homeless and different special needs populations. Our job is to be that link and help them explore those options and feel that connection to the university as well as the community at large.”
Olivier lived in the service leadership wing last year and said he feels it is a very positive environment and brings students together with a common interest.
“You know that other people are involved in something you like doing,” he said. “We promote development of leadership through building connections with community organizations or having volunteer services on campus.”
Olivier has high hopes for his first year as a resident assistant and believes his residents will have a big impact on the campus.
“It's exciting; we have fun,” he said. “I believe volunteering is not a one-way street. Everyone who volunteers gets something back, even if it’s not money. You gain a sense of humility and gratitude. I think it's important and an important part of leadership.”
Research has shown a relationship between civic engagement and how well students do in school, and Thompson hopes to foster a sense of the importance of service and leadership in the residents of the Leadership for Life wing and all students at UIS.
“We want our students to be better informed about their own leadership skills and better informed about service opportunities, and what it means to them to be involved in service, how that might affect their major and even their course for what they do in their life after they leave UIS,” she said.