October 20, 1997
Volume 50, No. 9
No overview of community involvement would be complete without mention of Volunteer Emory and Volunteer Oxford. For many, these student-driven programs represent the very personal face of Emory out in the community-the one-on-one contact and effort that is the backbone of philanthropy.
Student volunteers on both campuses organize events, work with nonprofit agencies and local schools, and sift through the vast-and sometimes overwhelming-needs of disadvantaged people in the Atlanta, Covington and Oxford areas to create a clearinghouse of service projects.
"We have our ear to the ground to find out what the needs are in our community and how our students can help," said Cathi Wentworth, Oxford's director of student development who oversees Volunteer Oxford. "We're trying to educate our students on social issues but also on individual responsibility and how that impacts society."
Like Volunteer Emory, her group is directed by two student coordinators. Volunteer Oxford was loosely organized before Wentworth's arrival this year, but Oxford students have long tutored in the community, including local elementary and middle school children. They also venture to Atlanta to participate in projects such as Hands On Atlanta and the annual AIDS Walk, which was held Oct. 19.
Wentworth thinks these efforts by students "begin to build a habit of service-if I can call it that. And I think that as adults they are more likely to participate in service projects if they're doing it on a regular basis in college and maybe even in high school as well."
Volunteer Emory was formed in 1980 by two students who believed service could enhance student learning, said the program's director, Lisa Simpson. The organization is still run by two student directors with the help of 11 program coordinators who focus on issues such as AIDS, homelessness, the environment, hunger and the problems of women, youth and the elderly. The program welcomes not only students who want to volunteer but also faculty and staff. "If staff and faculty volunteer on their own or with their families, we'd like for them to see us as a resource so they don't have to do the legwork and running around to figure out where to volunteer," explained Simpson.
She hopes to see faculty members use Volunteer Emory resources to incorporate service projects into their curricula. "It would add value to their teaching," Simpson said, "for students to get to apply what they're learning in a real-world setting." She thinks Volunteer Emory can enhance initiatives already underway, such as Theory Practice Learning, either by helping professors find agencies that fit their needs or by helping them develop programs from the ground up. Students benefit too. "I think it allows for practice or career exploration in many cases," Wentworth said.
Volunteer Emory and Oxford sponsor several big events throughout the year. Oxford's big event is their springtime "Carnival on the Quad" held in conjunction with the Department of Family and Children Services for children in its custody.
Volunteer Emory just concluded its annual AIDS Awareness Week during which events ranged from showing the movie "And the Band Played On" to the assembly of "Halloween-grams" for HIV-positive children. Even Emory students benefited during the week; they received "Safety Love-grams" that contained AIDS-awareness materials, a condom and candy. Students from both Oxford and Emory participated in the AIDS Walk in downtown Atlanta.
Those large events are but one part of both programs' goals. Volunteer Emory offers weekly service trips to Atlanta's Dunbar Elementary on Saturdays to tutor-and have fun with-children; to CHRIS (Children Have Rights in Society) Homes, a program for abused and neglected kids; and to Boulevard House, an emergency shelter for homeless families where students provide small-group or individual counseling for elementary and middle school students.
These and other initiatives keep student organizers as well as Wentworth and Simpson, whose job was changed from part- to full-time status this year, very busy.
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