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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Networking volunteers

By Tom Balsley
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 29, 2005

Last year, Sara Krohn ‘05, a St. Olaf student who volunteers with English as a Second Language (ESL) students in Faribault, gained much more than an addition to her resume.

“I worked most of the year with an older Latina woman who was struggling with English,” Krohn said. “Through this work, I learned about her family and her life. It was amazing that we could build such a good relationship only seeing each other once or twice a week.”

Krohn’s story reflects the experiences of many St. Olaf students, who proactively pursue their passions and dedicate their limited free time to making a difference in their greater communities.

Through their work, friendships are built, personal growth is initiated and local social programs are sustained and expanded.

According to Director of Student Activities, Kris Vatter, Volunteer Network (VN) – a student run collaborative that started in 1990 – contributed 5,906 volunteer hours during the 2003-2004 academic year.

That same year, student organizations recorded 7,897 volunteer hours and Up ‘Til Dawn, a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children Hospital, raised over $26,000. Evidently, students do not wait to receive their diplomas before pursuing St. Olaf’s ideal of “lives of worth and service.”

VN currently consists of 36 programs which serve in Northfield, Faribault and the Twin Cities. Associate Dean of Community Life and Diversity and the Director of Buntrock Commons, Tim Schroer, stated that VN’s origins are grounded in the culture of the college and the type of students it attracts: “The reason it initially started is simple,” he said. “It followed the long standing tradition of Oles getting involved beyond St. Olaf.”

The catalyst for service is as unique as each volunteer, but each story reveals a foundation of compassion from which St. Olaf volunteers advance. For Maria Borg ’07, the kindness shown to her throughout her young life feeds her altruistic activities with Pet Therapy today.

“I was so drawn to Pet Therapy because I spent two weeks in the hospital when I was 14 and the dogs that visited me brightened my days more than anything else,” Borg said. “I'll never forget the joy they brought to my bedside. I love that I get to share it with the residents at Northfield Hospital every week.”

Service is a formative experience that is a reflection of VN participants’ values and priorities. Megan Haley ’06 volunteers with the youth health education program ProjectSight. She perceives volunteering as an opportunity to put her beliefs into action.

“I feel that teen pregnancy prevention and a general message of making healthy choices is important for youth,” Haley said. “Especially today when so many of the messages bombarding them are promoting the exact opposite.”

Service allows future-oriented Oles to make an impact on tomorrow, today. April Graves ‘05, a student program director for Head Start and the Nightingale Project, incorporates her teaching interest into her youth-focused service. “I feel the students benefit by having me as a role model, as many of them know that I am a college student,” Graves said. “Kids are so impressionable and hopefully my visiting will make an impact on them in the future.”

Although the number of hours which Oles formally contribute to others is impressive, the most significant impact of their work is beyond quantification.

The accomplishment of many volunteers exists in the relationships they build through service. The AmeriCorps VISTA Tutoring Coordinator at St. Olaf, Laura Uridil ‘03 said, “I have seen amazing relationships built between tutors and students and realized this truth: Relationships with caring adults hold true potential to reach struggling students.”

Volunteer Coordinator at Three Links Care Center, Carol Fredrickson, witnesses the value of volunteer relationships between college students and the nursing home’s residents.

“The volunteers’ impact on the residents is a friendship, delight and anticipation of visits, and the opportunity to connect with the younger generation,” Fredrickson said. As one resident put it, "Those young men are the nicest guys! Why on earth do they want to come and spend time with a bunch of old ladies?"

By working together, volunteers often recognize the significance of their relationships with those they serve through tangible changes.

About her ESL students, Krohn said, “It's wonderful to see how hard these folks work and how much their English skills improve over the course of the year. We work with the same students every week, so you build up a good relationship with them.” Through the development of relationships, St. Olaf volunteers are contributing to the community in a meaningful way, such as the after school program for Faribault youth M-TAG.

The vital role of volunteers also carries great responsibility. “Students are very important in the community, though only when they contribute with consistency and integrity,” Carlen said. “I don't have data, only anecdotal evidence that sometimes volunteers do more harm than good when they do not show up consistently.”

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