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Student volunteer hours = 10 full-time years

August  28, 2013

Community Connection 2013

First-year students started volunteering at last Saturday's Community Connection, traveling to more than a dozen sites to work. This annual event introduces new students and faculty to the area and prompts them to reflect on their role in community.

Ladies of Vital Essence (L.O.V.E.) did their Community Connection project at the Handicapped Development Center's residential property in Davenport. The project was to wash the vans they use for transporting residents, as well as water the flowers and shrubs.Students ended the project with a talk on what the center does as well as ways students can volunteer and get involved there.
Student volunteers at Casa de los Niños, a new bilingual preschool in Davenport. The school currently has one class and wants to extend enrollment (to its 65-student capacity). The school needed help with maintenance on the thus-far unused parts of the building. Augie students painted offices and stairways and helped to clear out, clean and organize a third-floor gym. The faculty members who worked with them were Dr. Megan Kelly, visiting assistant professor of Spanish, and Dr. Christopher Strunk, assistant professor of geography.

You might find them coaching a kids' soccer team, building a Habitat house, planting a garden in Cambodia or filling sandbags in Rock Island.

From schools to museums, city cleanups and tax preparation, Augustana students pretty much do it all and they do a lot of it. They put in more than 20,422 hours of volunteer service in the 2012-13 school year. That's 7 percent more than the previous year, and it's the equivalent of 10 full-time workers for an entire year.

Laura Mahn

Actually, the total is probably quite a bit more, said Laura Mahn, coordinator of volunteer and off-campus programming. Because as good as students are at volunteering, they often forget to log their hours.

"My guess is that our system captures about three-fourths of the volunteerism our students are involved in," she said.

Many of the hours are put in by student groups, sororities and fraternities who band together to support one cause, such as the American Cancer Society. Academic departments also adopt projects, such as the free VITA tax preparation service offered annually by accounting students.

When students go home on break or over the summer, they keep on volunteering, logging hours in their hometown homeless shelter, hospital, grade school or parks and rec district. It's the same when they travel: free medical treatment in Nicaragua, environmental work in Ireland, building housing in Appalachia.

"The volunteer experiences about which I receive the most feedback are always experiences that involve helping people who do not speak English," said Mahn. "It invariably creates or solidifies a sense of gratitude and appreciation among our students as well as a greater appreciation for the struggles of others.

"One comment that I hear and read often is that everyone has a story and out students feel a sense of connectedness even with people of very different backgrounds as well as a sense of pride and thankfulness that someone trusted them enough to share their story."  

She said these experiences occur at when students volunteer with World Relief, Casa Quanajuato, Black Hawk Literacy Program, VITA and in local schools.  

Mahn said many area schools rely on Augustana students to make some of their events possible.

"Longfellow Elementary School had over 60 Augustana volunteers that completely made Longfellow Luau possible at the beginning of May," she said.  "It means a lot to local organizations to know that there is a particular group of students that they can count on to help their organization run smoothly. Having relationships with Augie students, rather than having to scramble to find new volunteers every time they need something, is very meaningful.  

"We've been working on this for the past couple of years — having students build relationships with organizations and build partnerships rather than just dropping in and volunteering at random places from time to time. It's definitely beginning to pay off."

Any organization looking for volunteers may contact Laura Mahn at lauramahn@augustana.edu or 309-948-4313.