September 24, 2001
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
Hildie Cohen is not that sort of person.
Working in the nonprofit field requires a certain attitude. Not a finger-snapping,
head-bobbing Attitudebut a positive, upbeat and motivational one.
The director of Volunteer Emory possesses just that sort of an outlook.
And nowhere is it more apparent than in her words.
Volunteer Emory is a student-run organization administered by the Division
of Campus Life. Cohen is the sole Emory employee guiding two co-directors
and 15 program coordinators, all of whom are students working on their
own time. Volunteer Emory links the University to the greater Atlanta
community and helps recruit volunteers on campus for metro-area nonprofit
A positive outlook is essential, Cohen said. Especially if you
are in a leadership role and people are looking to you for that drive
or direction, you cant be negative.
A glance around Volunteer Emorys offices on the second floor of
the Dobbs Center drives the point home. A mural taped to the wall broadcasts
catchphrases born during an organizational retreat earlier this month.
The colors are bright, the smiles wide and the punctuation mark of choice is the exclamation point.
Support each other, in pink marker. Increase participation,
also in pink. Educate, in big black letters accompanied by
a golden light bulb.
Surrounding the mural are staff ID sheets made of construction paper.
In the top right corner, almost imperceptible to a casual glance, is Cohens.
It is a minimalist masterpiece. Service is Swingin,
it reads. The self-portrait combines a slightly out-of-date photograph
of Cohenher pictured shoulder-length hair is a few inches longer
then the bob she sports nowcropped at the waist with a hand-drawn
lower body adorned in a poodle skirt and a pair of saddle Oxfords.
The approach works, as last year more than 1,200 people volunteered through
the organization, logging upwards of 4,000 service hours.
We try to welcome everyone who comes in the door, Cohen said.
Sometimes they get more than they bargain for.
We just have a really fun day, Cohen said. The Volunteer
Emory staff members coordinate the event, and we invite other volunteers
to become buddies with the kids and take them around to the different
Over three days, more than 50 volunteer organizations and several campus
groups descend on the Coca-Cola Commons with stand-up posters and stacks
of brochures designed to drum up volunteers.
The fair took on some added meaning this year. As Cohen was setting up
for what was going to be the events opening day, Sept. 11, terrorists
struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The days activities
were quickly postponed, and Cohen responded to a division-wide call throughout
Campus Life to make herself available for student counseling.
The Emory community was looking for something it could do,
Cohen said. You have the feeling that if you cant be in New
York, what can you do in your community? You feel really helpless, but
there are things you can do. People need help all the time.
That feeling was reflected in the response when the fair opened Sept.
12. Since classes had been cancelled, that day was relatively slow. But
day two, Sept. 13, the DUC was jumping.
Each of the 25 agencies and three student organizations on hand left
with almost a full list of volunteers. Dozens of students signed up, and
Cohen said dozens more inquired about giving blood. The response was so
strong that she and VE staff member Stephanie Sears created a banner on
the fly advertising how those interested could donate.
But there is another aspect to Cohens involvement: Her relationship
to the Emory community as a whole, which she joined the day she stepped
on the Oxford campus as a freshman in 1994.
She served with Volunteer Oxford for two years and upon graduation joined Volunteer Emorys staff. Her senior year, she advanced to co-director. Cohens first Emory project was as a buddy at the Jerusalem House, a group home on Briarcliff Road for people suffering from HIV and AIDS.
She also chaired Emorys AIDS Awareness Committee and was instrumental
in bringing the memorial AIDS quilt to campus in 1997.
In 1998, Cohen graduated magna cum laude with a double major in psychology
and sociology, then moved on to graduate school at Northwestern with the
eventual plan to earn a doctorate. Once Cohen got her masters in
sociology in 2000, though, her priorities had shifted.
I had intended to do work on nonprofits for my doctorate and become
a consultant or a program analyst, Cohen said. But the more
I researched these programs, the more I realized I wanted to be the one
doing them or administrating them. I wanted the hands-on work, not the
Late that summer, when Cohen heard about the opening at Volunteer Emory, she jumped at it.
When I left Emory, I knew I would always be involved in nonprofits,
she said. I knew that this [position] would fit, and it was a great
I have just always loved volunteering, especially as I got
more involved in organizing projects, Cohen said. I remember
thinking when I was co-director that this would be something that Id
love to do as a career.
She first volunteered as a middle school student, feeding the homeless
in suburban Phoenix, where she grew up. She was in a service club in high
school, then when she got to college, Cohen found her calling.
Cohens hopes for the future include a co-curricular transcript,
for which students can record service time like a GPA, and a pre-orientation
project where about 50 freshmen would come to campus the summer before
matriculation and serve the community side by side with faculty and staff.
Another idea, one that began last year with excellent results, was the
awarding of block grants to students who start their own service organizations.
The program is called Social Entrepreneurs at Emory and new grants will
be awarded this semester.
When I was a student, I would come up with these ideas, but I didnt
have any money to do them, Cohen said. So this is an opportunity
for students to give something to the community, and it gives them some
seed money to do it.
The hope is that students will eventually start their own nonprofit
or that their idea might be taken up and turned into a nonprofit,
Cohen said. She added that Volunteer Emory is actively seeking faculty
and staff members to serve as mentors.
We all work together, Cohen said, summing up the role of volunteerism on campus. Volunteer Emorys contribution is getting the volunteers to serve the homeless, the elderly, the animals, the environmentwhatever is needed. This is where my passion is.