To volunteer or not to volunteer; is that even a question? Well not if you are a University of La Verne student; it’s a graduation requirement.
Many colleges require its students to complete a certain number of mandatory community service hours. At ULV, this comes in the form of Core 305, a service learning course in which students are to spend a minimum of 25 hours at an off-campus community service site and follow up with written reflections of their experiences.
This mandatory course leaves some students questioning what exactly is in it for them?
“You need to really examine your reasons behind volunteering, and if it’s mandatory, go into it with the best mindset possible because people are counting on you,” said Matthew Delano, a graduate student at Azusa Pacific University majoring in educational counseling.
Yet for other students, the service learning class opens their eyes to a world they may have never seen and inspires them to volunteer once the course ends.
“My experience with Core 305 as a student motivated me to continue my work,” said ULV Professor Lauren Larsen.
And continue it she did. Larsen was so inspired by her volunteer work as a ULV student that she took it to the next level and became a service learning instructor shortly after finishing graduate school.
“It got me to make that jump from student to citizen,” Larsen said.
Larsen currently teaches Core 305: Hunger and Homelessness; the very same class she took as a ULV student. As an instructor, she continued her work with the Inland Valley Council of Churches and went beyond the call of duty by creating a “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week,” which included a food and clothing drive, at the end of the Fall 2005 semester.
Christina Boland, one of Larsen’s Core 305 students, also was thankful for her service learning experience.
“In my opinion, I would never have had the resources I needed to get involved if it hadn’t been for ULV,” Boland said.
Boland worked with the Inland Valley Council of Churches as well, where she assembled boxes of food for families.
“Once I got there, my perspective totally changed,” Boland said. “It was a really good experience.”
For Larsen, it comes as no surprise that her students are having perception - changing experiences while volunteering, which would explain why at the start of each semester she says, “Welcome to Core 305, this course is going to change your life.”
Luckily for most students, the world of volunteering offers as many options as 31 Flavors. Finding the perfect fit all comes down to knowing what you love to do. And for some, that love takes on a more spiritual meaning.
“Right now I put in about 20 hours per week volunteering at my church as a youth group leader,” Delano said. “I knew I could be a positive example of what a Christian should be.”
Delano, with the help of several other college-aged church members, noticed the need for a youth group at the small, 70-member, Sierra Vista Community Church in Upland.
They took it upon themselves to create “The Edge,” a Saturday night junior high and ?high school group that gives the church’s younger members a chance to congregate, play games and have fun away from the usual adult scene on Sunday mornings.
“Most of these kids have to face struggles I never even knew of, and they need someone who cares more for them than for themselves,” Delano said.
For other college students, volunteering proves to have the duel benefit of gaining both professional experience and personal enhancement.
“I think the enrichment we get from volunteering helps you to grow as a person and makes you more aware of the world around you,” said Suzanne Bazulto, a senior social work major at Cal State L.A.
Bazulto is currently doing her 420 hours of field work needed to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in social work at the YWCA’s domestic violence outreach program, WINGS (Women In Need Growing Strong). WINGS provides legal and counseling services to the survivors of domestic violence.
“The program here is amazing, I love it,” Bazulto said.
However, not all of the college students who volunteer their time at WINGS are doing it for the purpose of meeting a graduation requirement.
“I’m doing this purely because I want to be here,” said Jessica Wood, a psychology graduate student at Cal Poly Pomona. “I love this program; I wish I would’ve joined a year ago.”
Whether or not students attend a college that requires community service, most universities have jumped on the volunteering bandwagon in one way or another.
ULV allows students to choose where they would prefer to do their service hours, from working with Meals on Wheels to tutoring children at a local junior high school.
“Core 305 introduces students to community needs that otherwise they may never see,” Larsen said.
CSU Fullerton also seems to be in the business of introducing students to community needs.
In just one year, CSUF placed more than 2,000 students in community and service learning sites. As a result, students accumulated more than 110,000 hours though their “Titans 100K of Service Campaign.”
“I think in the end students are going to like volunteering because they will gain experience and benefit from it,” Wood said.
Azusa Pacific University’s students appear to be getting plenty of service learning experience as well.
Each APU student completes a minimum of 30 hours of community service per year, which is a contribution of more than 40,000 hours total annually.
“Volunteering is sometimes a thankless job,” Delano said. “If you are doing it to be praised then you shouldn’t be doing it at all.”
Christine Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.