VISTA workers teach CCU students the joys of volunteeringby Mona Prufer
On any given day, Katie Zahm and Deana Lewis might be found planning a volunteer event on campus, encouraging students to get involved with community service projects, or helping people who’ve been adjudicated find an appropriate nonprofit group to work with to make their required hours.
“Katie gets all the students who want to do volunteer work, and I get all the students who have to do volunteer work,” jokes Lewis, who works with people both on and off campus who have been through the court process and are fulfilling a judge-ordered sentence of a certain number of volunteer hours.
The two women are AmeriCorp Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) members serving as volunteer services coordinators in the University’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership. They sign up for a one-year commitment with the option to renew for another year. In return for their service, VISTA members receive a modest living allowance and health benefits during their service. About 6,500 VISTAs are placed annually in more than 1,200 projects around the country.
Lewis, a graduate of CCU (2008), is in her second year in the position. She plans to move on to graduate school and a career in counseling. Zahm, a graduate of Assumption College (2009) in political science, is in her first VISTA year and plans a career in social work after her commitment is up here in June.
“I wasn’t quite ready for the Peace Corps, so when I learned of this job, it was just perfect,” says 23-year-old Zahm, whose parents (mom was a nurse, dad a college professor) were always passionate about helping others. “This position is about motivating students to get involved in the community and teaching students that they can make an impact on the world we live in,” she says. “Everyone can make a difference; each student can use their passion and turn it into impact.”
While volunteerism is alive and well, it is met with different reactions on the CCU campus, Lewis says. “Some kids, like me, have volunteered all their lives. Others are more like ‘Nobody helped me, why should I help them?’”
They are both hopeful they have made a difference and, if the numbers are any measure, they have. Since last August, 2,487 volunteers on the campus have logged in 13,000 volunteer hours. Of that number, about 800 were discipline cases where students and/or nonstudents were required to do community service.
Lewis, a native of Charleston who now lives in Loris, has a degree in psychology. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave Coastal,” she says, “And when I heard about this position, I applied for it quickly.”
Married and with a seven-month-old son, Nolan, Lewis plans to eventually go into family and marriage counseling. “I like to fix things, to help people,” she says.
The two volunteer coordinators try to match up students â and nonstudents â with the 45 community nonprofits they work with, from the animal shelters to the Boys and Girls Clubs. They do event planning and help the student volunteer groups like Students Taking Active Responsibility (STAR) plan their own volunteer events and trips.
Zahm, who is from South Hadley, Mass., came to CCU to encourage community service and help others, and it’s been a satisfying year for her.
Both young women have enjoyed the challenge of getting students to volunteer their time and energies to help other people.
“This experience has really opened my eyes to how much people need help in so many different ways,” says Lewis. “It’s not always the expected ways, either. There is great need.”