Holiday season activities highlight student commitment to others.
Three years ago while coordinating the Colleges Holiday Gift Project, Katelyn Miller ’07 received a card filled out by an 8-year-old asking for bed sheets and winter boots. The simple request remains etched in her memory as she continues to volunteer for the project that this year aims to aid 82 individuals.
“It is heartbreaking to see what children ask for,” said Miller, an economics and public policy double major. “Looking at the wish lists of kids in need makes me realize how lucky we are. At school you can get so busy with classes and activities you can forget what life is like outside of your bubble.”
Similarly, Andrew Grasso ’08 became hooked on service when several years ago he worked on a project to provide underprivileged kids with a snack for school. “I guess what got me most was that trivial things that most people take for granted, like a snack in first grade, seemed to very much enhance these kids’ lives.”
This holiday season, Miller and Grasso never considered not being involved in the holiday gift program and have sponsored an unborn baby girl and a 12-year-old boy, respectively. The two are among many of their peers at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as well as the hundreds of young adults in America who are fueling a nationwide rise in volunteerism, according to a report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service this week.
The report, Volunteer Growth in America, has found that the number of Americans who volunteer is at a 30-year high, due in part to a boom in young adult participation. It follows a study the Corporation released this fall that found college student volunteering increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2005.
At Hobart and William Smith, this growing trend toward volunteering is evident in the outpouring of community service activities scheduled this holiday season. Students are caroling at an assisted living community, visiting an animal shelter, ringing bells in front of Salvation Army kettles, preparing hot meals at a free community lunch program in downtown Geneva, organizing a food drive in the residence halls and planning holiday activities with children in the America Reads program. A recent Chorale concert benefited the Community Lunch Energy Fund, and student-athletes and campus a cappella groups spent a Saturday afternoon singing carols with the Geneva Rotary Club on the Santa Train.
Civic engagement also is evident within the classroom. For example, in Assistant Professor Karen Feasel’s psychological test development and validation course, students are working with the local Boys and Girls Clubs to create tools and methods to assess the merits of the academic after-school program and provide tutoring assistance.
Feasel is inspired by the student interest and compassion. “This is an amazing group,” she said. “They have demonstrated skills and expressed aspects of character that might not have surfaced in a traditional classroom experience.”
Alyssa Smith ’08, who has worked with high school students in the after-school program, said the service component allowed her to apply much of what she has learned in the class, and is a good fit with other service work she has done in the past with Habitat for Humanity and Rotaract.
The commitment to service appears infectious. William Smith sophomore Sarah Paris and her roommates seem to have caught the fever. For the first time, they have sponsored an 11-year-old girl, purchasing for her clothing, accessories and a DVD player.
“I believe for many students at Hobart and William Smith it is important to help others, especially during the holiday season,” said Paris. “We realize that an extra toy or gift can make a child so happy. It’s something that their families may not be able to afford.”
At an institution where community service is part of the mission statement, Director of Public Service Ave Bauder ’81 is pleased but not surprised at the outpouring. “The students continue to demonstrate that they care deeply about this community and the families that live in it and I know this civic commitment will continue after graduation. A great part of my job is thanking all of the students who have made a meaningful difference in the lives of so many people in the community,” said Bauder.
This year’s Holiday Gift Program benefits families served by Action for a Better Community in Ontario County.
[Photo details: Hobart first-year students William Bennewitz (left) and Alex Pinsky prepare omelets at the Community Lunch Program on Friday, Dec. 8.
As a member of several service organizations, Katelyn Miller ’07 attended the campus tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 7. During the event, representatives from campus clubs and groups hung ornaments on the holiday “peace tree.”
Resident advisors Amanda Fritz ’08 and Hristo Dimitrov ’08 collect donations from the food drive conducted throughout residence halls.]