February 11, 2009
By Greta Myers
Public Affairs Reporter
With the economy slumping and the unemployment rate spiking, how to get out of the country’s financial fix has been a constant question in Washington. And while policy decisions are largely out of the hands of most Americans, President Obama has stressed an essential role that everyone can play to lessen the pain: “Given the crisis that we are in and the hardships so many people are going through, we can’t allow any idle hands.” Or, more simply put: volunteer.
UIS freshman Katie Lindsey-McCoy is no stranger to volunteering. McCoy has been involved with community service since she was 14. She has mentored children at her church, written letters to senior citizens and helped with relief efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. McCoy lives in the Leadership for Life Service Wing in the Lincoln Residence Hall on campus. The wing houses 24 students and emphasizes developing leadership skills in students and volunteering at community agencies in the Springfield area.
Recently, McCoy was busy lending a hand at St. Joesph’s retirement home’s bi-monthly “wine and cheese” gathering. “I love to help people out,” said McCoy, “A lot of people have helped me out and I just want to give back.”
McCoy was among a group of 15 UIS students volunteering at the event, which was organized by the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center at UIS. The Center’s Director, Kelly Thompson, said that the call to service that Obama underscored during his presidential bid has echoed through the UIS campus.
“I have noticed a very hopeful, positive attitude among students who feel they can make a difference,” Thompson said, “What you are seeing with Obama’s spirit of service, is how a leader with that spirit instills it in people. It’s exciting to see them giving back.”
UIS Senior, Elaiya Rucker, began volunteering for the first time recently and said the impression Obama made on her is undeniable. “I feel very much influenced, not just because he is a black president, but because he came from nowhere,” said Rucker, who is African-American. “No one would have guessed he would have been president,” she said, “It makes you think I can make a difference no matter where I come from.”
Obama has said that serving as a community organizer in Chicago molded him into the person he is now. “Through service, I found a community that embraced me; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction that I’d been seeking,” he said. “Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the large story of America.”
Thompson agrees that volunteering creates a sense of community for students, many of who are new to the Springfield area. Students can volunteer as few as 5 hours a week and transportation is provided.
This year, the group’s“Holiday Stars Project” brought in 4,500 pounds of food to Central Illinois food banks. Recently, the organization has volunteered at the Midwest Mission distribution center in Chatham, worked through Big Brothers/ Big Sisters as mentors to at Harvard Park and Jefferson Middle school, and provided 40 student athletes to mentor middle and high school students in Springfield schools.
Volunteer opportunities for the month of February
Sat. Feb 7 from 1- 4pm in UHB 1004, (training session) for Central Illinois Food bank to help conduct interviews to gather information apart of a national study to be published in an almanac on poverty and hunger in the us, Feb – April.
February 14, 11-3pm at the Illinois State Museum, volunteers are needed to help register students and their parents for the Mr. Lincoln Science Fair during the state’s busy school group season. To reserve transportation to the museum, RSVP by February 12th.
Month of February, M-F, anytime between 9am-5pm for Big Brothers/ Big Sisters. Volunteers are needed to make phone calls for the Bowl for Kids sake event in March. Transportation is provided.
“We are trying to provide greater recognition to UIS students and the Springfield community at large,” Thompson said. She also said that recent updates to the group’s website, facebook presence and having inquires come to just one email account, have helped make the volunteer group more effective.
But besides doing good for their community, students have an added incentive to volunteer. “It is critical to have volunteer service on their resume,” said Thompson, who cited students who said volunteer experience was vital to getting the jobs or into the graduate schools they wanted “As a university we are absolutely stressing civic engagement, “said Thompson, who encouraged students, especially seniors without volunteer experience, to “run, not walk” to the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center. Not only will these students be helping others, they will be helping themselves.