Monday, January 25, 2010

UIS women's basketball player volunteers in West African hospital

Susan Coryell has known ever since she was a little girl she wanted to be a doctor, now she’s getting her chance to help others.

The UIS junior women’s basketball forward/center spent two months of her summer break volunteering in Ghana, West Africa at a military teaching hospital. She served as a nurse helping to change bandages and care for patients.

“Every day I just looked forward to going in and helping out and they got to know me,” said Coryell.

Coryell was in Ghana in July 2009, when President Barack Obama came to the country to speak about African relations and meet with Ghana’s President John Atta Mills. She was able to take pictures next to Air Force One and watched as Obama arrived in the country.

“I haven’t seen him in the United States, but I go abroad and I get to see my own president,” said Coryell.

Volunteering is nothing new for Coryell. As a member of the UIS women’s basketball team she’s involved in efforts every year to improve the local community.

“One of the attributes or foundations of NCAA Division II is service, so anytime we can give back to the community I think it’s positive,” said Marne Fauser, UIS women’s head coach.

Coryell and other members of the women’s team helped collect canned goods for UIS’ 2009 Holiday Star’s Project, which raised 3 tons of food for the Central Illinois Foodbank. Players are now launching a new partnership with the Special Olympics to help members improve their basketball skills.

“I just like being around kids. Giving back is always good,” said Coryell.

Coryell spends much of her time off the court teaching at the Cox Children's Center on campus. She hopes to one day become a pediatrician or orthopedic surgeon.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

UIS students build positive relationships while mentoring at Harvard Park Elementary

A group of UIS students pulled out board games of all kinds in the Harvard Park Elementary School gymnasium on Friday morning and quickly paired up with their “Littles” to play.

The group is part of the mentoring program that UIS has in conjunction with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sangamon County that takes UIS volunteers to several elementary schools in the area once a week to interact with some of the children at the schools.

The program is mutually beneficial for both the elementary-aged students and the UIS students, said Harvard Park Principal Kim Leverette. She said she hopes that the relationships built with college-aged students will inspire the students at Harvard Park to continue their education.

“For many of our students, their background and the homes that they come from, that dream isn’t instilled in them of pursuing higher education,” Leverette said. “So this viewpoint is very instrumental in our kids turning their attitudes around and turning their grades around.”

“It may inspire UIS students to be education majors as well,” she added. “So while it impacts our students, it also greatly impacts students from UIS as well.”

Mark Frakes, a sophomore at UIS, enjoys playing cards games like Uno with his “Little” at Harvard Park.

“He’s pretty good; he beats me a lot,” Frakes smiled.

Frakes has been mentoring for more than a year at Harvard Park through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and has been able to see firsthand how beneficial his involvement is in the life of his Little.

“This gives kids a chance to talk out some of their issues and have a positive older role model because some of these kids don’t have that sort of support system,” he said. “I like coming here to hang out with him. When he has fun, I have fun.”

“I think I’m just as excited to come here and hang out as (my Little),” agreed senior Zach Berillo with a laugh.

UIS freshman April Fountain’s Little doesn’t have a brother or “anyone his age to sit down and play with him,” she said, and he looks forward to the one-on-one time with Fountain.

“He enjoys this every Friday. I think he gets a lot out of it,” she said.

Leverette hopes the program will continue to flourish and even to grow.

“The feedback I receive from the community, from the staff, from the parents is something that we want to build on and nurture, and we want all of those great things to continue,” she said.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Student Volunteers Create 9/11 Video

Students from the University of Illinois Springfield’s Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center have put together a video in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Student and staff volunteers traveled around the UIS campus asking students what impact 9/11 had on them, where they were when the attacks happened and if they think it united the country.

“It’s probably the defining event in young people’s lives on campus since they’ve been alive it’s been the one event that has impacted the entire world,” said Jordan Jeffers, Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center Americorps VISTA.

The project is being done as part of the first ever 9/11 National Day of Service, which will be the culmination of President Obama’s Summer of Service.

Jeffers hopes the video interviews will spark discussion about the importance of the events and inspire people to work towards civic engagement.

The video will air on the campus cable channel at various times through Sunday.

Watch the full video of what the volunteers created below:

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Monday, March 09, 2009

UIS students utilize spring break to help hurricane victims

The University of Illinois at Springfield’s Alternative Spring Break student organization will be taking a trip to Mandeville, Louisiana during the 2009 UIS spring break to assist victims affected by Hurricane Katrina.

For seven days and six nights, from March 15 to March 21, 24 UIS students will be residing at Camp Living Waters in Mandeville, Louisiana. The purpose of the trip is to rebuild and eliminate poverty housing by physically lifting materials and building homes in the Southeast Louisiana area.

“By planning this trip, we will be able to educate UIS students in disaster preparedness on a national level,” said Kelly Thompson, director of UIS’ Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center. “The students are excited to spend their spring break serving others.”

The UIS Alternative Spring Break student organization was formed during the current academic school year, and this is the first official spring break service trip being offered by the group.

The trip is coordinated through the Collegiate Challenge program within Habitat for Humanity. The Collegiate Challenge has provided volunteer trips for youth ages 16 to 25 across the nation for 20 years and has grown to include more than 15,000 volunteers each year.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kirkendall acknowledged for support of autism fundraiser

Karen Kirkendall, interim director of the Capital Scholars Honors Program and associate professor of Liberal & Integrative Studies, was among those acknowledged for their support of the second annual "Take a Step for Autism Walk" held in September in Washington Park. The winter edition of the Autism Society of America Central Illinois Chapter newsletter thanked Kirkendall for "announcing the walk and her devoted support to autism spectrum disorders. She is a treasure."

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wing in LRH promotes leadership and service

By Courtney Westlake

Even before school started, students in the Leadership for Life Service Wing in Lincoln Residence Hall were lending a hand, volunteering for the local Special Olympics.

“Everyone is just genuinely interested in doing volunteer work,” said Charles Olivier, a sophomore who is the resident assistant for the wing.

The Leadership for Life Service Wing is the only living-learning community in LRH and provides residence to 28 first-year and sophomore students. The wing has a new focus this year on both leadership and service, said Kelly Thompson, director of the Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center at UIS.

“They really go hand in hand,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to work with first-year students to help build their service and their leadership skills. We want our first-year students to feel comfortable and at home at UIS, and we want them to know that we're here to help them, as well as engage them with the campus and the community.”

Students living in the Leadership for Life Wing have service requirements that they need to complete, as well as several service programs to attend each semester, Thompson said. One of their first activities was a leadership retreat at Camp Cilca, which Thompson described as “very enlightening.”

Besides volunteering at the Special Olympics before classes started, the residents of the wing were also able to work together in service when Senator Barack Obama was in town to introduce his running mate.

“It really tested our bonds with each other; we were out there for seven hours in the heat, but it was a good experience,” Olivier said. “We also all came together in the first weeks and had a party for some of the residents who had a birthday after they moved in.”

To join the Leadership for Life wing in LRH, students fill out an application, explaining why they have an interest in service and what volunteer opportunities they have been involved in.

“The students all have a passion for volunteering and all have backgrounds in service and volunteerism - mission trips to other countries, activities in their communities, awards they've been given,” Thompson said. “They have a wide variety of interests they would like to explore, such as working with animals, children, the homeless and different special needs populations. Our job is to be that link and help them explore those options and feel that connection to the university as well as the community at large.”

Olivier lived in the service leadership wing last year and said he feels it is a very positive environment and brings students together with a common interest.

“You know that other people are involved in something you like doing,” he said. “We promote development of leadership through building connections with community organizations or having volunteer services on campus.”

Olivier has high hopes for his first year as a resident assistant and believes his residents will have a big impact on the campus.

“It's exciting; we have fun,” he said. “I believe volunteering is not a one-way street. Everyone who volunteers gets something back, even if it’s not money. You gain a sense of humility and gratitude. I think it's important and an important part of leadership.”

Research has shown a relationship between civic engagement and how well students do in school, and Thompson hopes to foster a sense of the importance of service and leadership in the residents of the Leadership for Life wing and all students at UIS.

“We want our students to be better informed about their own leadership skills and better informed about service opportunities, and what it means to them to be involved in service, how that might affect their major and even their course for what they do in their life after they leave UIS,” she said.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Students enjoy spring break trip for Habitat

By Courtney Westlake

Students involved with Habitat for Humanity on the UIS campus took a different route in planning a spring break trip this academic year.

A group of ten students in the UIS Habitat for Humanity club, along with Beth Hoag, assistant director of student life at UIS, spent their week-long spring break in South Dakota, helping the local chapter of Habitat with various projects.

"I got involved in the Habitat club because I'm friends with Dan Bosomworth, who is the president," said Zach Berillo, a sophomore. "The club meets every Saturday, and we work on different houses in the area. We helped Dan with picking the location of our trip."

When Berillo mentioned the trip to his friends, Colin Samson decided he might like to join the group.

"It sounded like it'd be a fun adventure - a bunch of people helping out - and it sounded like something I'd like to do," Samson said.

The first day, the group helped to tear down a house that contained some pieces that Habitat wanted to salvage, like the circuit breaker, heater, vents, sinks and lighting fixtures. Those parts are then used in some of the new houses that Habitat will build, Berillo said.

The other three days the group spent in South Dakota included building a shed for a food pantry in the local town of Sioux Falls, Berillo said.

"It was too cold to build outside - 35 degrees - so we couldn't build a house or anything, but they had us build the shed inside a warehouse," he said. "It was really good because there were a lot of volunteers there, like some local guys who volunteer about 20 hours a week, so we got to work with them and talk with them, so that was really nice."

The students enjoyed getting to know each other better and learning about Sioux Falls and the people that live there.

"I liked it a lot. We managed to complete shed that we started; we stayed there a little longer," Samson said. "I hope it's in use."

The group is already looking forward to next year's spring break Habitat for Humanity trip.

"We're probably going to pick a place a little warmer so we can enjoy it a little bit more, but I think definitely for our first trip with Habitat for Humanity, it was a really good one," Berillo said.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

UIS Cares event proves successful

By Courtney Westlake


A group of UIS students proved that college kids do indeed care about the well-being of the local community on Wednesday morning, and grateful community members who drove by and thanked them reinforced their efforts.

The group of UIS students and several staff members spent much of the morning on Wednesday, April 30, pulling weeds, planting flowers and partaking in other beautification projects at Jefferson Middle School as part of National Volunteer Week.

The day was just a part of an ongoing relationship with Jefferson Middle School, through which UIS students also mentor students from Jefferson.

"This is the 6th annual UIS Cares day, and we wanted to do a beautification project," said Kelly Thompson, director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement at UIS. "We wanted to show the students from Jefferson truly that we did care; we are using the name UIS Care by really showing them that we care about their school, both on the inside through our mentoring and on the outside."

UIS junior Adam Findley said he heard about the chance to volunteer during the UIS Cares event through his soccer coach and felt it would be a great opportunity for some of the student athletes.

"I felt that it'd be a great thing for us as athletes to do to really just give back to the community," he said.

A cleaner and more beautiful image is important to the community, Findley said.

"What I like to say is the first glance is always the best," he said. "When people come to Jefferson Middle School, they want to see a beautiful place, and they'll want to come back if they do."

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Monday, March 31, 2008

New director has big plans for civic engagement

By Courtney Westlake

It’s only been about a month, but Kelly Thompson has big plans for her new position as the director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement.

“It’s a newer office; it’s only been around for a few years,” Thompson said. “Our whole goal is to foster volunteerism and civic engagement in the students. We want them to get involved early and get involved with community.”

Thompson came to her position at UIS from a strong background in and passion for civic engagement. She also has ties to the university having received her master’s degree in communication from UIS in 2002.

“So it's really such a good fit to bring my background in civic engagement to the university and help build the image of the university in the community,” she said.

One of the big projects Thompson is looking to take on next fall is called the American Democracy Project. It is organized through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and will be co-sponsored by the offices of academic affairs as well as student affairs, she said.

“We are one of four member colleges in Illinois, and we hope between student affairs and academic affairs to foster some civic projects that students can become engaged in,” she said.

Thompson also feels very strongly about the service wing in Lincoln Residence Hall, which encourages and helps residents to become more engaged in campus and volunteer activities. Thompson is already actively building up the service wing and hoping to encourage those students into leadership roles and service activities both in groups and as individuals.

And there is an important reason for the push toward volunteerism and civic engagement, Thompson said.

“We do know that research shows that a more actively engaged student both on campus and in the community makes for a more successful student,” she said. “Students who are tying in their academic experiences with their out-of-classroom experiences are more likely to be successful in their academic careers as well as their careers following college life.”

The university has realized the significance of service in one’s life, so much so that it is “one of the guiding principles of our entire curriculum,” Thompson said.

“It really signifies, even in our strategic plan, the importance of making a difference in the world,” she said. “It’s important in an early stage of a student’s life to experience different volunteer and civic engagement opportunities so they can begin to understand 'what is my role in the world? what is my role here on the UIS campus?' and really learn from that, learn some leadership qualities and traits they can take with them beyond UIS.”

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Student's volunteer trip moves her to action

By Courtney Westlake

It started out as a joke between friends but eventually led Shana Stine to experience a trip that would change her life.

Stine, a junior at UIS, repeatedly told a friend and former co-worker, mostly kidding, that she wanted to accompany him when he returned to his native country of Kenya in Africa. As time drew nearer to his return though, she began to make tentative plans to go as well.

“I’d always wanted to go to Africa since I was little,” Stine said. “So I decided to go. And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought that I didn’t just want to go as a tourist; that would seem really empty. So I thought I would do two weeks traveling with my friend and two weeks volunteering at an orphanage.”

A little research put Stine in contact with a Kenyan volunteer organization called Fadhili Helpers. When she arrived in Kenya, Fadhili placed her at Gathiga Children's Hope Home, outside of Nairobi in Kenya. She made all the arrangements herself, received the required vaccinations and filled out her visa. And when she got to Gathiga in June 2007, she didn’t want to leave.

“I got to Kenya and fell in love with children at the home, so I actually stayed about three weeks there,” Stine said. “Because I went on a mission trip to Mexico, I knew it was going to be hard, and I would see kind of the worst of humanity. But I wasn't prepared completely for it. It was rough to say the least, a pretty hard experience.”

Although the poverty broke her heart, the bright spots in Stine’s work at the orphanage were the children. She became especially fond of an eight-year-old boy named Joel, whom she later found out has HIV. Joel’s situation, as well as the other children’s, moved Stine into action.

“Joel is easily a favorite; you can't not like him,” she said. “When I found out he has HIV, that just broke my heart again, as if the poverty wasn’t enough. So Jump for Joel is a project I started in his name to help the orphanage there.”

With help from other friends and family members, as well as the campus community, Jump for Joel has taken on a life of its own since its beginning, Stine said.

Through the organization, Stine has been able to raise more than $5,000 for the children’s home, providing food, a second toilet for the residents, a roof over one of the “sleeping” rooms, assistance to get some of the children back in school and more. Jump for Joel was also accepted through the Applied Study Term at UIS to allow Stine to earn academic credit for her work on the project.

Stine said she is so grateful to the support Jump for Joel has received. And she can’t wait to do more.

“Words are great, but if you're not going to back it up with action, what's the point?” she asked. “I came back from Kenya knowing I couldn't just tell the stories; I needed to do something. I couldn't sleep in my dorm bed with my own bathroom when there are kids sleeping 20 to a room with one toilet for 96 kids. I think Kenya changed me in that way; it solidified that I need to do.”

For more information about Jump for Joel, visit

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Service Learning Provides Unique Opportunities for UIS Students

By Courtney Westlake

Cristina Bowman, a UIS sophomore and Springfield native, hadn't given much thought to homelessness and hunger until she decided to take a service learning course at UIS.

Bowman's class, Learning and Serving: Hunger and Homeless, requires that everyone meet certain amount of hours toward assisting and bettering the local community.

"We spend 20 hours at St. John's Breadline, and 40 hours working on group project, which is collecting items like plastic bags, small plastic containers, tea and sugar (for the clients of the Breadline)," Bowman said.

The Service Learning Program was started as an effort to get students involved in volunteer and service opportunities, and is currently led by service learning coordinator and professor of applied study Kathy Guthrie.

Under the new curriculum set by the campus senate in 2005 called ECCE (Engaged Citizenship Common Experience), students must fulfill 13 hours in various categories such as U.S. Communities, Global Awareness, a Speaker Series and more. Guthrie sets up courses that connect community service to academic credit under the ECCE requirements.

Past and present courses on community service focus on issues, including hunger and homelessness and the environment, Guthrie said. There are also online courses that center on general service and a new course that will be offered in the spring on social change and leadership.

"It's important to get not only students but any individual to think about how they can be active and involved in their community," Guthrie said. "Everyone is passionate about something, but it's finding that passion and actually acting on it."

Recently, students taking the course on environmental issues created an anti-littering campaign for city and worked with waste and recycling manager within Public Works. The students recruited high school students to pick up trash one day around the State Fair Grounds. Fifty to 60 high school students showed up to work with three UIS students, which sparked residents in the surrounding area to join the students in cleaning or offering them beverages, Guthrie said.

There is also a current group of UIS students performing service at the Animal Protective League, working with the animals and providing advocacy for the animals, she said.

For her hunger and homelessness class, Bowman is working on an additional, individual project that includes videotaping the guests of the Breadline, asking questions such as "how has the breadline helped you?" Then she will compile the information for the Breadline to help them better their services.

"It's really opened my eyes to the problems in the community," Bowman said. "We do need to help the homeless around here. My projects may seem a little small, but I know I'm doing my part in helping the community of Springfield."

As for the future of the service learning program, Guthrie is working to start an immersion program for students to provide service in other parts of the country or internationally.

"There seems to be a lot of interest in that, so once those (courses) get established, that will be quite popular because it's taking people out of the area they're used to living in and being engaged in and taking them to another part of the country they've never seen," she said.

Ideally, Guthrie hopes to build the program up and inspire students to find their passion and make a positive social change.

"I think a lot of time people get stuck and think 'I can't make a difference' or 'I can only give one hour of community service a week, a month or a year' and so then they feel it's such a small amount, they don't even do that," Guthrie said. "That hour does make a difference."

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Professor Heads to Yellowstone when Summer Comes

By Courtney Westlake

On a typical day during the school year, Dr. Gilbert Crain can be found in his office, writing for the monthly newsletter, Governmental Accounting and Auditing Update, or in a classroom, teaching students about the finer aspects of accounting.

But when the summer moves in and school lets out, Crain packs up his books and heads to Yellowstone National Park, where he spends his days as a park ranger, primarily directing “bear jams” to ensure that Yellowstone’s bears can get safely across the roads, while leaving the park-goers and their vehicles unharmed as well.

It’s a double life that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Born in Urbana, Crain obtained his Ph.D. in accountancy from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the spring of 1974, he left Illinois to teach at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.

It was several years ago, while still living in Bozeman, that Crain stumbled upon an opportunity that fulfilled a life-long dream of working outdoors.

“When I first started at Southern (Illinois University at Carbondale for undergraduate), I had my sights on being a forester, but I’m not a science guy,” he said. “That was really always where I wanted to be, was outdoors. About eight years ago, I had the opportunity to quit teaching some continuing education courses in the summer and started volunteering with Yellowstone.”

Crain spent several years working to keep unwanted plant life in the park to a minimum before he found his niche. One weekend, he ventured to Yellowstone for his typical activities, fishing and hiking, when he came across an enormous bear jam and a lone park ranger to handle it.

“I stopped and asked if she’d like some help; I’d done a couple bear jams before,” he said. “I started working jams with her that day, continued throughout the whole weekend and continued every weekend that fall.”

During a bear jam, when bears get too close to the road or cross the road, rangers work with three objectives: keeping the bear, and cubs, safe, keeping the people safe and lastly, keeping the vehicles safe, Crain said.

“Fortunately the bears along the road are really habituated and not aggressive, but they are still bears; they can run a hundred yards in 6 seconds,” he said. “I can tell you that in a situation like that (a complex bear jam), by the time it’s over, my adrenaline is well up there. I’ve decided that is a lot of why I do it - it’s an adrenaline rush.”

Now, Crain is taking a new step in his life: moving back to Illinois to become a new associate professor of accountancy at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

“Part of it was a little bit of ‘going home’,” Crain said, adding that he knew his predecessor, Dave Olsen, very well. “To me, the most important things are the camaraderie of my colleagues and the work ethics of the students. I got good evaluations from Dave on both, and so far, that seems to be accurate.”

But although he is back in his home state, many hours from Yellowstone, Crain does not anticipate giving up on his second life anytime soon. And he encourages anyone else interested in volunteering at Yellowstone to talk with him.

“It’s exciting. It’s almost a spiritual thing, even though that sounds kind of hokey, but if you’ve ever been out on a jam with me, you’d understand,” Crain said.

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