"The students of Catawba are here not just to take away an education but to give something back, and by giving back to the community, we're also educating ourselves further,” explains Catawba College Senior Daniel Robertson.
Robertson, who hails from Little Rock, Arkansas, not only coordinates volunteers and volunteer projects on campus for Volunteer Catawba, but he is an active volunteer in his own right. He shares responsibility for directing Volunteer Catawba with Senior Emily Hoffman of Tampa, Fla. She, like Robertson, is a student who practices what she preaches.
"Something I really struggle with is why there's such a high level of apathy," Hoffman says. "I honestly believe it's because they haven't been in touch with volunteering enough. If a student just goes to help prepare a meal and feed the needy at Rowan Helping Ministries that gets them more involved and makes them see a world outside of themselves.
"My advice to students is: 'If you don't like the world around you, change it.' "
College students like Robertson and Hoffman are among the drivers who have pushed American volunteering to a 30-year high, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. That non-profit organization suggests that "the growth of school-based service and service-learning“ is one factor fueling the volunteerism increase, especially in America's schools. The Corporation's College Students Helping America report notes a 20 percent increase in the number of college students volunteering between 2002 and 2005.
Volunteer Catawba, the on-campus organization Robertson and Hoffman co-direct, not only coordinates student volunteers with particular service opportunities, but it also tracks and records the hours students spend volunteering on different projects. According to the Corporation's College Students Helping America report, Catawba College, like other American colleges and universities, promotes "volunteering and community service among their students in an effort to cultivate an ethic of civic responsibility."
According to Volunteer Catawba records, 122 faculty, staff and students volunteered between the start of school in August and November 5, logging 670 total hours. Community service projects which Volunteer Catawba has recently helped recruit volunteers for include Habitat for Humanity building projects, meal preparation at Rowan Helping Ministries, and the annual Harvest Moon Ball at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks in Salisbury.
Robertson is personally enamored with the local Habitat for Humanity projects. "Every Thursday I go, it's just something I do personally," he explains. "As far as Volunteer Catawba goes, I typically try to send out e-mails calling for volunteers when there's lot of work to be done – painting, siding, framing, where we need lots of hands and the work goes quickly. We typically get enough response from one e-mail that I don't have to advertise a lot. I do get a lot of the same people volunteering, but then at the same time I do get responses from people I've never met or heard from before."
Seeing the same people showing up to volunteer is a mixed blessing for Hoffman. "There's apathy in abundance," she says. "You start to see the same people at the same projects. But then, it's so refreshing when you see a new face or new people coming out, you kind of get rejuvenated. I hope that that person will have a good experience and bring a friend next time."
It was at the recent Harvest Moon Ball, Robertson says, where Volunteer Catawba had "the most first-time volunteers." Fifty-three volunteers from Catawba came and went throughout the night at the event held at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks in late October. Catawba first-year student Anastasia Barkova from Belarus, was one of those first-time volunteers. She was in charge of the event, finding volunteers, decorations, and food for the casino night-themed dance which drew about 80 Lutheran Home residents and their families.
"It was different than what I expected it to be," 20-year-old Barkova explained. "I didn't think they (the nursing home residents) would be excited as they were. It brought back so many memories for them. For some of them, it made their night just dressing up. We had people dancing in wheelchairs and volunteers having conversations with the residents. It was a great experience for me. I thought it turned out pretty well and I was really pleased with the result."
Mary Ann Johnson, director of community and foundation relations for Lutheran Services for the Aging in Salisbury, was also pleased with the results of the third annual Harvest Moon Ball. "The compassion, poise and sensitivity demonstrated by the students are truly remarkable. I really can't say enough good things about the collaboration between Catawba and the ministries of Lutheran Services for the Aging,” Johnson noted. "The collaboration has been a blend of fun and meaningful activities, personal relationships, and the mutual celebration of worth and achievements.…ultimately, improving the quality of life for the entire community."
"I've been involved in community service before," Barkova said, "but being in charge of such an important event (Harvest Moon Ball) gave me a different perspective on getting involved."
That change in perspective is exactly what Hoffman hopes volunteering does for many of her fellow students. "Getting people involved personally doing community service, you gain a level of commitment that is so far above what they would have previously done. When I've volunteered with organizations, I've gotten a better idea of which organizations I want to continue to support. You do get a really strong idea of who is using the money to the best interest of their clients.”
Robertson echoes Hoffman's sentiments, using a personal story to illustrate. "I was coming back from WalMart one day and next to the Bojangles, there was a guy standing there with a sign asking for money because he said he was hungry and wanted money for food. Rather than just handing him money, I went through the Bojangles and got him a sandwich. When I came back by and tried to hand it to him, he said, 'No thanks,' that he wasn't hungry.
"I know that when I'm at Rowan Helping Ministries, I am giving those folks what they need – they're being fed and have a safe place to sleep, and counseling, and help getting a job and back on their feet. I can see for sure the benefit."
Twelve Catawba College students will travel to Pascagoula, Mississippi during their Christmas break, December 13-19, with Chemistry Professor Dr. Mark Sabo on a trip co-sponsored by the College and his church, First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. They will help with rebuilding efforts still ongoing after the 2005 visit of Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast. It will be the fifth such trip that Catawba students have taken with Sabo and volunteers from his church.
"I am extremely impressed by the students who go on the Mississippi mission trips. They not only have logged over 3,000 working hours to help others, but they did this during their cherished Christmas break," Sabo explained. "The trips have a lasting effect on students and spawned Bible studies, devotions and greater volunteerism."
Sabo noted that many of the students traveling to Mississippi are the same students who help him and other volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in the "Breakfast Club," cooking breakfast once a month at Rowan Helping Ministries. This once-a-month volunteer effort which began close to three years ago has interested other Catawba students, like Robertson and Hoffman, in volunteering more frequently at this Salisbury-based non-profit.
Catawba students traveling to Mississippi are among a growing number of long-distance volunteers who travel more than 120 miles out of their state to offer their assistance. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service's Long Distance Volunteering in the United States, 2007 report, these people, often college-age adults, "travel with a purpose," and tend to be "individuals highly committed to volunteering." Their efforts, the Corporation concludes in its College Students Helping America report, not only bolster "America's civic traditions," but also have "the potential to substantially increase the number of children tutored and mentored, the amount of food distributed to people in need, the number of homes rebuilt after a disaster, and the amount of funds raised for charity."
Volunteer Catawba is housed under the umbrella of Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values. The Center's mission is to help participants, especially students, explore, discover and use their gifts in ways that serve others. The Lilly Center was established in 2003 with a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. It is directed by Dr. Kenneth Clapp, Catawba senior vice president and chaplain.
"Seeing service to others modeled by peers and mentors, experiencing the joy of knowing you have made a difference in someone's life, becoming aware of the needs and opportunities ... these are factors that cause students to make a commitment to pursuing vocations and activities that can make our communities and the world a better place," explains Clapp. "Through the Lilly Center, we are opening doors to these opportunities and experiences."