Smith helps community make `a career out of humanity'
After spending the summer as a quasi-volunteer traveling across the country
with the Olympic Torch Relay, Lisa Smith is now focusing her energies on
connecting Emory community members with volunteer opportunities in Atlanta.
Before she came to Emory in August, Smith spent March through July as a
loaned executive from the United Way, her former employer, to the Olympic
Torch Relay. As a member of the project's advance team, Smith handled logistics
for activities in various cities along the relay route.
The Torch Relay was a once-in-a-lifetime volunteer opportunity for Smith.
Now, as adviser to the Volunteer Emory program, Smith is working to help
Emory community members who come to her for assistance in finding volunteer
service opportunities do more than just participate in one-time service
projects. She wants to help them conceptualize volunteering as a way of
For Smith, a dedication to volunteer service started in high school, when
she participated in projects through school organizations as well as her
church. "Once I got to college, that just continued," said Smith,
a Spelman College graduate. "Volunteering was a priority for my sorority.
Service to all mankind was our slogan, and we really meant that. So volunteering
was something that just stuck with me, which is how I think I ended up in
the non-profit sector, whether or not I realized that at the time. Now it's
something that I live and breathe, and I infect other people with the notion
of helping someone else."
In her interactions with those who come to Volunteer Emory for assistance,
Smith emphasizes that volunteer service is much more than an obligatory
gesture to satisfy a course requirement. Rather, volunteering is a basic
societal responsibility shared by all, especially those who have been the
most fortunate financially. "What I would like Volunteer Emory to do
is help others in making a career out of humanity," Smith said.
Another dimension of volunteer service that Smith wants to expand at Volunteer
Emory is the idea of linking students' academic lives with their lives as
volunteers. For a student studying child psychology, for instance, Smith
can find a volunteer service opportunity that matches that student's academic
interest. Smith also wants to help find volunteer service links for students
in fields where such service might not be as obvious a concern, such as
the basic sciences or mathematics, where education and tutoring opportunities
often fit the bill.
"I want to help students answer questions like, `How do I volunteer
if I'm a math major?'" Smith explained. "I want to help them figure
out how volunteer service carries over into their academic experience, or
their real-life work. Those types of majors usually don't see it as affecting
them as much as psychology, sociology or religion majors, for instance."
Reflecting on service Smith's goals for Volunteer Emory are fourfold: 1)
to educate the Emory community about volunteering and promote awareness
of volunteer opportunities; 2) to recognize individual accomplishments of
Emory volunteers; 3) to support individuals and groups at Emory in developing
community service projects or service learning opportunities; and 4) to
provide and promote reflective evaluation and thinking about one's service
Expanding the role of reflective evaluation will be of particular concern
to Smith this year. "I want to promote the kind of reflection that's
needed to help people see why they did the service project that they did,
why those issues such as homelessness or hunger are out there, and to help
the participants to figure out if they made a difference or how they can
make a difference in the future," she said.
Smith uses several methods in the reflective evaluation component. One of
those is providing journals to participants in Volunteer Emory's weekly
service trips. "We encourage the participants to write down their thoughts,
concerns or suggestions so they can internalize or digest what that project
meant to them and why they got involved," Smith said. "If they
went to a homeless shelter, they may think about what happened to the people
there to cause them to be homeless, and whether the homeless are really
that different from them. The journals can be anonymous or they can sign
In addition, students can log onto LearnLink and go to a particular area
reserved for discussions about volunteer experiences. They can chat either
with another student volunteer or with a Volunteer Emory staff member. (The
organization is staffed by 19 students.)
"We are also hoping to begin some type of campus-wide reflective service
activity," Smith said, "something in the morning that could be
a coffee and conversation event, or perhaps a lunch and learn-type thing
where people can talk about these issues that are affecting society. We're
still in the process of working it out."
Smith is also working on bringing panels of experts to campus to discuss
specific issues, such as a panel on AIDS for a forthcoming AIDS Awareness
What Smith most wants the entire Emory community to be aware of is that
Volunteer Emory representatives are available to discuss volunteerism and
volunteer opportunities in classes, residence halls and offices, wherever
there's a need. "I want the Emory community to see us as a place where
their concerns, needs and wants involving volunteer service are a priority
for us," she said.
to the October 14, 1996 contents page