Offering a helping hand FSU students share volunteer opportunities

(ASB volunteers spent a portion of a trip re-roofing a house damanged in a tornado. Courtesy of Emily Robinson)

Around the holidays, many people choose to give back to their communities – whether is it volunteering time at a soup kitchen or donating money to buy Christmas presents for children.

This spirit exists in the FSU community but not just during the holiday season. Throughout the semester, clubs have collaborated with organizations to donate their time and money to different charities.

There are so many chances for students to help the community – both on and off campus. From Alternative Spring Break (ASB) to Community Service Club, students can volunteer for a day or a week.

Off-campus opportunities include mentorship for children in Framingham, from housing developments, to a sixth-grade class.

At the start of the school year, Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences Susan Dargan, along with friend and Cameron Middle School teacher Caroline Wynn, sent out an email asking students to volunteer to be “e-pals” with her sixth-grade class.

Dargan said the program is a “great way to get involved in the community.”

She advocated for many different volunteer opportunities for both students and faculty. This included 100 members of the FSU community helping refugees in Framingham over the summer.

“It’s the current political environment. People want to help others,” she said. “An engaged student learns the most.”

According to Dargan, there are plans to launch a civic engagement center on campus. It would be a designated center where students and faculty can go to find suitable volunteer opportunities as well as transportation to volunteer events.  The plans are part of the University’s five-year plan and will be worked into the strategic plan.

Wynn began the e-pals program with a former student over 20 years ago at Colby College and moved the program to FSU five years later.

She matched over 100 sixth-graders with their FSU counterparts. They will communicate via email for the duration of the academic year and then meet in person in April at FSU.

Wynn said the purpose of this program is to help the younger students improve their writing skills and hopefully start thinking about college at “an earlier age so they can make it a goal for their own futures.”

Junior Brianne Barrett said this is her first year participating.

Barrett said participating in e-pals is a fun way to communicate to students about her college life.

“I tell her about my classes and what it is like to live in a dorm and she has shared stories about school and her favorite activities.” she said.

Sophomore Amanda Landry said the pen pal program appealed to her for some time and she really enjoyed the age group she was assigned to.

She said, “I’m an English major, but my favorite is children’s and young adult literature, and sixth grade is such a transition period for that.

“I love kids, so the more I work with them, the more I get out of it. They really get me to enjoy life, and hearing what they have to say is really enjoyable for me,” she added.

Students are also welcome to sign up for Pelham Pals, which is a mentoring program for children who live in the Pelham Apartments in Framingham.

Brianna Araya, interim coordinator for the PLUS program, which is the mentor program for first-years students who are Pell Grant recipients, also helps coordinate Pelham Pals.

Araya also works with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) which helps organize off-campus volunteer opportunities. AmeriCorps prides itself in helping those in poverty.   

According to Araya, Pelham Pals was created in 2013 and consisted of four mentees and four FSU mentors working in a classroom on campus for a six-week pilot program. The program has now grown to seven FSU mentors and 10-12 students who live in the Pelham Apartments.

Like e-pals, the goal of Pelham Pals is to inspire young students to consider college as a future goal.

“I think students should participate in volunteering because of the effect it can have on communities around campus. Dedicating even the smallest amount of time can make such a huge difference, even if you aren’t able to see the immediate effects,” said Araya.

Aymee Beaudoin, community outreach specialist for AmeriCorps VISTA, co-organizes programs with Araya, such as Musterfield Mentors and Bethany Hill Reading Buddies, along with Pelham Pals.

Musterfield Mentors is an afterschool mentoring program with the Framingham Housing Authority. The program recruits first-generation, work-study eligible FSU students to be mentors to the children living in the Musterfield Place complex, Beaudoin said.

Bethany Hill Reading Buddies recruits FSU students to act as academic role models for the children of Bethany Hill Place, which is a “safe, affordable, educational house to more than 150 people every year, many of whom have experienced homelessness, addiction, violence and loss in Framingham,” she said.

“This program places an emphasis on making reading a fun, enjoyable experience for the children involved,” she said.

According to Beaudoin, five FSU students are Musterfield Mentors and four are involved with Reading Buddies.

Aside from the off-campus mentoring programs, FSU clubs and departments, such as ASB and Community Service Club, offer volunteer opportunities.

Tom Kelley, athletic director and head football coach, said the athletic department works with Team IMPACT from time to time. The program pairs terminally ill children with collegiate teams. These children become honorary members. They go to games, get a jersey and follow the team to games from the start of training to the final game.

Community Service Club offers volunteer day trips for students who are free on the weekends.

Vice President of Community Service Club, Rachel Davis, said the club undertakes multiple volunteer trips a semester to food banks and Big Brother Big Sister.

“I think it is important to think of what you can offer others through the experience as the leading reason of why you volunteer, because you’ll have the mindset that you are doing it to help another individual or group of individuals in a way that they greatly appreciate. This perspective is how to be motivated to continue to help others and even encourage those around you to serve others.”

She added, “It has been a humble feeling to make even the smallest difference in someone else’s life that brings them happiness. Spreading positivity in this way is what seems to be greatly needed and to be generous in an impactful way.”

President of the Community Service Club Kyle Hurley, a senior, said the club “has been the place where I feel connected the most to campus.

“College students should volunteer, because it allows them to acquire knowledge about the communities around them, while feeling good about it at the same time. When you volunteer, you feel like you are making a difference in the world no matter how much you volunteer or where you do it, which is empowering,” he added.

Hurley’s favorite volunteer trips are the Habitat for Humanity spring break trips. He has been a part of the trip for three years. “I was the trip leader last year, but my first year was truly an amazing experience. I helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity which I never thought I could do. Also, I made some friends along the way which was great,” he said.

ASB is another option for volunteering. It is a week-long trip during FSU’s spring break. A group of students travel to a different American city in need of volunteers. After starting in 2009, ASB has gone to New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Oklahoma City.

In 2018, a team of 27 students will travel to Nashville, Tennessee.

This year’s team leader, Kristen Hoey, senior, said ASB “is the service initiative on campus that is very near and dear to my heart. It has opened my eyes to so many things and has given me a love for helping others. … After experiencing ASB for the first time my sophomore year and seeing how the trip has impacted others, I know that the power of service is strong.

“I believe that getting involved in volunteerism on campus can help students learn more about the world around them as well as learn more about themselves. … I would love to see more people get involved in service because I believe it is beneficial for the mind, body and soul,” she added.

Emily Robinson, a senior, reflected on her experience in New Orleans last year. She said the team worked on repairing a woman’s house. Caryl lost her home during Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago and was homeless.

“When we first arrived at her home, there were no walls or rooms. You could see the back of the house from the front. By the end of the week, the entire first floor had walls again. Walking through that house and realizing that we were able to give this woman her home back was one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced,” she said.

Shannon Fitzgerald, a junior, said, “I’m not religious, but Caryl is and her faith was inspiring. Before we left on the last day, Caryl told us that she asked God for a miracle and she believes He sent her us.”

If students are unable to donate time, there is always toy and food drives taking place for those in need. 

This October, there was a food drive for the victims of Hurricane Maria.

According to SGA secretary Bridget Green, a senior, the organization is accepting clothing donations all semester for the Purple Ribbon Campaign, which helps those who are homeless.

There is another clothing drive going on this season. SGA is collecting coats for Coats For Kids, which gives winter clothing to children in need. They are accepting everything from coats to pajamas.

Green said, “If our drive doesn’t accept it, we will find another place.”

SGA has already received three bags worth of clothing.

The items can be dropped off in the SGA office in McCarthy 404. 

Green said, “Volunteering for college students allows us to get a perspective of the world outside of their own. Many times, students get caught up in work and school. They will often forget that others don’t have it as good as some of us.”

Multiple clubs, faculty, and staff participated in the Giving Tree Project, which gave 180 gifts to over 60 children.

On Dec. 14, history professor Lori Bihler’s Holocaust and Genocide course hosted a banquet to support Syrian refugee families in the MetroWest area.

Kieran Shakeshaft, a senior, said ,“Either students donate food or outside restaurants such as Chipotle or Framingham Baking Company. The event is free. It is meant to entice people to come in and make monetary donations.”

Rachel Lucking, assistant dean of campus engagement, said student involvement corrdinates the ASB program and hosts Special Olympics annually. Additionally, the office and FSU clubs participates in local volunteer programs and fundraisers throughout the region. Some of those initiatives include a book drive for Houston Public School libraries, and an upcoming trip to the Milford Boys and Girls Club organized by the Community Service Club.

She added, “Volunteerism is an excellent way for college students to not only meet other students, but also learn more about themselves and others.  It truly gives an expanded view of your world, contributes to skill development and can lead to careers.

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