Helping Hands

There are so many ways for a student to spend his or her time at UVM. Some find part-time jobs, others study excessively and of course, many fall prey to partying just a little too much. Still, there is one way in particular that students choose to spend their time, and that is doing volunteer work. But what motivates these students to help out on Saturdays, or even their entire spring break, instead of simply doing something else? Is there some underlying reason for this selflessness, or are these students truly acting out of the kindness of their hearts?And why do other students choose not to take action? Is it because they simply cannot, or are there other factors involved?”I know how important and fun it was to have someone old to look up to. I wanted to do that for others, help them learn and experience new things away from home,” Janet MacDonald, the program coordinator for DREAM (Directing through Recreation Education Adventure and Mentoring) said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to be a little kid every once in a while, right?” DREAM is just one of the many examples of student-run volunteer programs at UVM. Founded by college students, the program aims to empower disadvantaged children through mentoring, and helps kids work toward achieving their goals. According to the DREAM Web site, “Each week, students bring the children in the program to their college campus for a combination of group and one-on-one activities. Group activities are age-appropriate, and the individual activities are tailored to the specific needs and interests of each child in the program.”VIA (Volunteers In Action), which is also a student-run organization, acts as a hub for a variety of volunteer programs like the Prison Project, Alternative Spring Break and Pets Helping People, according to their Web site.”I think it’s a great model because it is student-run,” VIA Director of Programs, Carrie McLane, said, “It’s all planned out by students and run by students, and people have so much fun doing it.” “Volunteering is something a lot of students at UVM feel the need to do and enjoy doing, regardless of what other outside interests they might have,” said Dennis Robillard, the director of counci,l for VIA. To committed volunteers like Robillard and McLane, community service is something that has become a basic part of living. Whether it is by helping out at a local soup kitchen, becoming a role model for children or helping underprivileged families construct a home, there is always a position to be filled.”We have really wide variety of opportunities and for any level of time commitment,” Robillard said. “We are always looking for volunteers, year round.” Although everyone has their own personal reason for volunteering, each group on campus works toward a loftier goal. One example is Feel Good, a student-run deli that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Feel Good is a part of a global organization called The Hunger Project (THP) , which aims to end world hunger, according to the program’s Web site. Open just a few days a week, this group of highly motivated individuals works hard to raise money, sending 100 percent of the proceeds to THP. According to Feel Good, President Leah Grossman, last year the group raised $20,000 and they hope to raise $35,000 by the end of this year. “When we say we’re going to end world hunger, we mean it, because we know what it takes,” said Grossman. Not only are students working towards a collective goal, but they reap the benefits of the therapeutic qualities that come out of helping someone else. “Honestly, I find that volunteering helps me purge any negatives that have been affecting my life,” said Jessica Katz, the program director for Pets Helping People (PHP). Pets Helping People is a great example of students who simply want to spread joy to others. PHP brings dogs to students and the elderly, and lets everyone enjoy the simple satisfaction of playing with man’s best friend, Katz said. With dozens of student groups covering such a wide variety of causes, innovation plays a crucial role in gaining student support. That innovation is partly driven by the goal to achieve personal satisfaction.”I initially got involved with PHP my freshman year because I missed my dog horribly,” Katz said, “The residents love it when we visit, and we college students get a dog fix!”But what about the students that do not spend time volunteering? “I simply don’t have enough time,” junior Peter McKay said. “Otherwise I totally would.”But is this the only reason? Or is there some special quality that must be summoned in order for one to volunteer?Grossman said she was first attracted to the idea of Feel Good after receiving an e-mail from the University. From there, her curiosity took over. Now she promotes and recruits members for the volunteer program. “People stick around because they are inspired by our mission,” Grossman said. The many lessons these students have learned are unique and character-building to each individual.”I have had a lot of experiences with DREAM in the past years,” MacDonald said, “This past weekend we brought around 15 kids to Old MacDonald’s Farm — my family’s farm — and the kids had so much fun sledding, being out in three feet of snow and curling up in front of a huge fire.” Students, like MacDonald, typically devote a few hours a week to their respective groups, so it does not interfere with school. But volunteer work does not have to stop after college. “Eventually I want to work for some kind of non-profit,” McLane said. She hopes to fuse her major in dietetics and nutrition, “to do something that is socially responsible.”Armed with pamphlets, Web sites, fundraisers and a plethora of other advertising methods, volunteers like McLane urge more students to sign up for a program. After all, student volunteer programs really depend on student participation. “Volunteering on campus is a really great way to connect with the community,” said McLane, “I think that a lot of times we live in a little bubble on campus and it sort of seems like the Burlington community isn’t a huge fan of UVM.” Although not every volunteer program at UVM has been completely successful, each one strives to help out the students and the community as best as they can. The feeling of personal satisfaction and empowerment that is experienced by volunteers, like the aforementioned students, is something that everyone can enjoy. Certainly those who have taken the time to help out with their local community in any way, can attest to this pleasure. “It’s a way of focusing on something other than yourself,” Katz said, “which is a wonderful concept.”Here are just a few ways that students can give back:Volunteers In Action (VIA): VIA is a volunteer organization that addresses community needs that have not been met by traditional agencies or offices. With hundreds of volunteers in 15 different programs, VIA gives UVM students a wealth of opportunities to give back to the Burlington community and surrounding area. Food Salvage: Help serve the local community every Sunday by cooking meals for the hungry and homeless.Big Buddies: Become a positive role model for the less-fortunate youth by spending time with them each week.Pets Helping People: Bring greyhounds to local nursing homes.Prison Project: Make a positive impact on an offender by tutoring, playing volleyball and more at the local correctional center.Alternative Spring Break (ASB): Spend your Spring Break working alongside Habitat For Humanity, improving the environment or working on any number of volunteer projects.DREAM: www.dreamprogram.orgMentor a child from a housing project in the greater Burlington area. Children come to UVM every Friday to hang out for an afternoon of activities of their choice and their mentor’s design.Feel Good: feelgoodworld.orgHelp put an end to world hunger by making grilled cheese sandwiches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in the Davis Center. Feel Good donates 100 percent of its proceeds to The Hunger Project.Visit uvm.edu/~service to learn more about how to get involved with a student volunteer project.