December 05, 2003

Students brighten the holidays for families

by Erin K. Thompson

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are making Christmas a little brighter for several underprivileged Southern Illinois families.

Thanks to members of the Social Work Student Alliance, Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity, and the SIUC AmeriCorps chapter, a number of families participating in Carbondale's Operation Rebound school program will have presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"(We did this) just to make someone's Christmas better and brighten up someone's day," Jackelyn Johnson, president of the Social Work Student Alliance, said.

"Some of these parents who are in high school don't get a chance. I just want them to know there are people out there who don't think they made a mistake."

Operation Rebound is for high school students who need a little help or a second chance at completing their coursework. The program is not only for pregnant teens, Johnson said, but teen-agers who get pregnant during high school can finish their course work there or earn their General Educational Development diploma.

Johnson, a junior in social work, said she made a Christmas tree and displayed it in the School of Social Work's main office. She then put little angels on the tree with the names of the mothers and children who need presents this year. Faculty, staff and students selected angels from the tree.

"We're not only buying a gift for the kids but the mother as well," said Johnson, who is from Nokomis.

The idea came from Mythili K. Rundblad, Student Development coordinator. Johnson asked her about a good holiday service project, and the result is "Christmas Rebound".

"For me it's very rewarding in another way because Southern at150 talks about developing citizen leaders out of students . . . this is one of the major goals of Southern at 150," Rundblad said, referring to the blueprint for SIUC's growth and development by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019. "It's really very nice that the students want to do this.

"The larger community is always appreciative of any service efforts by SIUC students," Rundblad added. "Students and student organizations involved in community service through the Saluki Volunteer Corps play a significant role in promoting positive relations between the University and the larger community."

But that's not where the giving ends. The AmeriCorps chapter also jumped on board to help with Christmas Rebound. Members wrapped the donated gifts, using supplies purchased by the Intergreek Council.

"We got involved for a lot of reasons," Ben Hunter, a member of AmeriCorps, said. "We work mostly with at-risk kids in the schools. They almost always come from a poor family or a single-parent home and there's not a lot we can do to improve their home life. Getting presents for the mother and child is making Christmas better for both of them, so we could benefit both parties."

Hunter, a senior in plant and soil science fromAssumption, speaks highly of Rundblad and her efforts to involve students in community projects.

"She is such a really cool coordinator. She's always on top of everything and looking out for new projects to do," Hunter said. "She's just great . . . she's like a mom to all of us."

Tori Collins, another member of the AmeriCorps chapter, said it's always good to give, regardless of the season.

"It is our civic duty as citizens of the United States to help out whenever we can," Collins, a graduate student fromChicago, said.

"We're trying to be doers of what we believe in. It's the little things, even if it's just wrapping presents -- any little bit helps. Even if it's just putting tape on a present, or a bow, it always helps out."

Johnson thinks the mothers participating in Operation Rebound deserve a good holiday season and that's why she's doing it.

"They are trying to go back to school and get an education," Johnson said.

"That's a lot of work considering they have a little one, or two at home. Most of them are lower income, so they may not be able to provide themselves or their kids with a good Christmas."