September 16, 2009

Student volunteer efforts make positive difference

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale donated nearly $750,000 worth of time and effort to help others during the last academic year.

That’s the estimated value of more than 38,000 hours given to a wide variety of community service projects and organizations according to Independent Sector, a coalition of foundations and private voluntary organizations that assessed the value of volunteer time at $20.25 per hour in 2008, said Mythili Rundblad, student development coordinator at SIUC.

Between August 2008 and July 2009, more than 6,000 SIUC students contributed in excess of 38,230 hours of service through Saluki Volunteer Corps, the campus’ civic engagement program, according to Rundblad. Volunteer efforts translated into a financial boost for local, state and international charitable organizations during the last year as well. Registered Student Organization members and students living in residence halls raised and donated more than $44,770.

In addition, 13 SIUC students selected to participate in the Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps contributed more than 10,000 hours tutoring and mentoring children. They worked with kids from pre-kindergarten through eighth grades in the Carbondale, Murphysboro, Du Quoin and Unity Point school districts as well as at the Boys and Girls Club in Carbondale. Rundblad said SIUC is one of a few select campuses in the country with an AmeriCorps program.

“To see hundreds of our students involved in volunteering their time and skills to make a difference is awesome!” said Rundblad. “We hope that when our students see the impact of their service, it will inspire them to be engaged, aware and caring citizens throughout their lives. It is gratifying to work with students who are a tremendous resource to Carbondale and our region.”

Toni Manzella, a junior social work major from New Lenox, volunteered with Saluki Volunteer Corps and Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps during the 2008-2009 school year, logging hundreds of hours making the world a better place. She tutored fifth- and sixth-graders at Du Quoin Middle School and coached the sixth-grade girls volleyball team.

She planted flowers in downtown Carbondale, decorated T-shirts for African children with AIDS, crafted Mother’s Day cards for The Women’s Center, and even spent spring break working with other students to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Alexandria, La. She manned the desk at the African American Museum at the University Mall in Carbondale, served in the soup kitchen at the Good Samaritan House and did volunteer training at the Women’s Center enabling her to work 24-hour “on call” shifts as a rape crisis advocate. Indeed, logging more than 100 hours with the Saluki Volunteer Corps, she received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

Manzella said her first involvement with volunteerism came during a summer church youth group trip to the Mississippi coast, providing Hurricane Katrina relief.

“That was one of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had,” she recalled. “Being fresh out of high school, I still hadn’t been exposed to anything outside of my suburban upbringing. Seeing the living situation of the hundreds of people that I came across in Mississippi changed my life, and knowing that there was so much that still needed to be done there and not enough people with the necessary resources to help them was heartbreaking. But, after seeing how grateful everyone was for our time and compassion, I was overcome with a deep feeling of selflessness and pride. After that, I knew that the only way I could ever feel that way again was by giving my time and skills to whoever needs them. I have volunteered more than 1,000 hours of my time in the last year and plan on doubling it by this time next year. To me, volunteering is a way of life. Those who have should help those who don’t.”

Lucas Pulley wholeheartedly agrees. A junior mechanical engineering major from Gibson City, Pulley is very active with Saluki Volunteer Corps. He has picked up trash and helped with Beautify Southern Illinois landscaping. He worked with children at the Head Start program and labored during spring break building homes in the Dominican Republic through SIUC Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Pulley has even started a campus Registered Student Organization (RSO). The goal of Project Ignition is to enhance driver and pedestrian safety on campus.

“Volunteering has become second nature to me, because it brings me so much joy it’s hard to stop,” Pulley said. I started volunteering in high school, raking yards and doing ‘meals on wheels’ occasionally and that’s where my passion for serving others really started. I realized quickly in college how much joy I can bring to other people when I put down the remote, get out of my shell, and look for people who need help -- because they are always out there. My best memory of volunteering is from my freshman year, when I would go every Friday afternoon for a few hours to help out at the Carbondale Head Start program. Seeing the look on the kids’ faces when I showed up, getting hugs when I left, and, of course, getting jumped on three or four times a day, it was all priceless.”

Already, student volunteerism on a grand scale is happening at the University this fall. More than 300 students donated their time and energy for the 15th annual Day of Service on Saturday, Sept. 12. They painted at the Carbondale Boys and Girls Club, made bird feeders for the Audubon Society of Southern Illinois, worked with Keep Carbondale Beautiful to spruce up the town, helped Carbondale Main Street with downtown landscaping and beautification, and created T-shirts for AIDS orphans in Zambia.

It’s not too late to get involved though.

“We invite all students and RSOs to be involved in service and outreach and to ensure that they document their volunteer hours and philanthropy efforts with Student Development’s Saluki Volunteer Corps,” Rundblad said.

To participate in Saluki Volunteer Corps, stop by the Student Development office on the third floor of the Student Center to meet with Rundblad or her staff and consider the many volunteer options. For an appointment, call 618/453-5714 or drop by between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Students interested in Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps must participate in a selection process. For information about joining, contact Rundblad at 618/453-5714 for an appointment.