May 15, 2012

University earns recognition for volunteerism

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For the fifth consecutive year, Southern Illinois University Carbondale has earned national recognition for its commitment to volunteerism.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced recently that the University has earned a place on the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.  The award honors students, faculty and staff for their commitment to improving communities and lives through community service, service learning and civic engagement. 

“Volunteerism is a time-honored tradition for our students, faculty and staff, both because we have a responsibility to help our friends and neighbors, and because service learning is such a valuable part of our students’ education,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “We want our students to become citizen-scholars.”

The Honor Roll debuted in 2006 and SIU Carbondale has been on the list each year since 2007.  CNCS collaborates with the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, Campus Compact and the American Council on Education to sponsor the program. 

“It is gratifying to see the number of students involved in service and civic engagement.  The energy and commitment of our students is impressive.  They are busy with classes and have jobs and family responsibilities yet willingly contribute their time and skills to many causes and organizations and make a real difference,” Mythili Rundblad, co-director of the Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism, said. 

Rundblad said it’s difficult to calculate the impact that student volunteerism has on the community because there are so many personal stories involved -- children who are making better grades, food pantries that are able to assist families, people with visual disabilities who are able to keep abreast of the news because students volunteer their voices through Southern Illinois Radio Information Services, and more. 

The Honor Roll recognition covers the 12-month period from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011.  Between August 2010 and June 2011 alone, more than 3,100 University students contributed more than 43,000 hours of service through Saluki Volunteer Corps, Rundblad said.  Meanwhile, they raised more than $86,519 for local, national and international causes and organizations.

The student volunteers assisted more than 65 community organizations and a dozen campus units with education, health, human services, cultural and environmental programs and efforts.  Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, Carbondale Public Library, American Red Cross, Carbondale Boys and Girls Club, and numerous environmental organizations, including Keep Carbondale Beautiful, are among those benefitting from the time, energy and fundraising efforts of SIU Carbondale students. 

Four groups of students participated in Alternative Spring Break, helping build homes for people in Texas and Florida.  About 20 members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a registered student organization, and Patrick Langan, their adviser, traveled to the Dominican Republic during spring break.  There, in collaboration with Food for the Hungry, they built houses and worked with local children. 

Also during the mid-2010 to mid-2011 timespan, the University’s Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps members partnered with three school districts, the Carbondale Boys and Girls Club and the Illinois Masonic Children’s Home, serving in a variety of ways.  Each AmeriCorps member completed more than 80 hours of training, conference attendance and professional development to prepare for their work in the program and their dedication is apparent, as this year’s AmeriCorps retention rate is 100 percent.

AmeriCorps team members worked with more than 300 children and contributed in excess of 7,000 hours tutoring and mentoring.  Rundblad said collected data indicates that children AmeriCorps participants worked with have improved reading scores, enhanced academic skills and exhibit positive behavioral changes.

Helping others and learning while serving have long been an intrinsic part of the SIU Carbondale learning experience, Rundblad noted.  The University recently established the Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism to enhance the connection between the classroom curriculum and volunteerism and service-learning.  Led by Rundblad and Roudy Hildreth, political science assistant professor, the center also serves as a central resource for students, faculty, staff and community partners with an interest in service-learning.

The goal, according to Peter Gitau, associate vice chancellor and dean of students, is to integrate and connect in-class and out-of-class learning experiences, enhance the service-learning efforts and academic benefits for students, and help foster continued growth in service-learning at SIU Carbondale.