We all know the reasons behind why we volunteer- it helps others, gives a sense of purpose in life, and well it makes you feel good. But what does volunteering really mean? Is it providing a service without monetary gain? For me, it is much more than that.
It was a few days before Christmas Eve, when the principal announced that gift baskets were being given away after school. I, being an anxious child, could not wait until the bell rung. Patiently standing by the secretary’s office, I saw a large brown bag. When she handed it to me, I was surprise. I thought I was going to get a beautifully wrapped gift. I unenthusiastically opened it and to my surprise saw coloring pencils, paint, a scrapbook, candy, and my favorite of all, a pink sweatshirt. Volunteers put together gifts for students in need.
Even though I never got the chance to say thank you, I was nevertheless grateful. From this experience and many more, I had an understanding of what volunteering means. It is working with the community, being present to lend a hand, and sometimes offering a hug when it is desperately needed. Often you may not receive recognition, but that is not why we volunteer. We do so because we choose not to ignore the needs of others.
Hello everyone! My name is Elizabeth Flanagan and I’m a first year AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy in Ann Arbor. As a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, I was excited for this opportunity to learn more about the Ann Arbor community beyond campus and get fellow wolverines engaged with it. These first two months have been exciting, demanding, challenging and rewarding and I’m happy to have the rest of this year to continue making an impact.
Our Service Learning Class for the Health Professions is in full swing and our students have collectively volunteered about 450 hours so far at nine different community partner sites in the Ann Arbor area. In this class, pharmacy, public health, social work, and kinesiology students come together to serve the community while learning about health disparities and poverty. I have been responsible for meeting with our community partner sites, determining their volunteer needs, and placing student volunteers with them.
I have been working closely with two of our community partner sites, Community Action Network (CAN) and Peace Neighborhood Center, which offer after school programs for youth in under-resourced neighborhoods. Our students tutor at these sites, and with my assistance, they have been developing health workshops for the kids at CAN. The workshops involve fun activities to teach about the importance of good health habits related to hygiene, sleep, and heart health. These workshops begin today, and I’m eager to see how the children enjoy them!
At Peace Neighborhood Center, I have been assisting the students in developing a healthy eating workshop for parents. The workshop will focus on providing creative, nutritious recipes for families who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Students have been working hard to put together this workshop, and I believe this is going to be a valuable resource for parents.
While we are only halfway through this semester, I have already been focusing on expanding the course for next semester. We are striving to increase our enrollment numbers, so I have been reaching out to faculty and staff to promote the class and encourage students to enroll in it for next semester. I have also been reaching out to more nonprofits in the area in an effort to set up additional volunteering opportunities for our students. So far, three new organizations have expressed interest in partnering with our class in January! I can’t wait to see how our service learning class grows over this year and the ways in which our students will continue to serve our community.
My VISTA year has gotten off to a great start and I’m looking forward to starting new projects and continuing to learn and grow throughout the rest of this year.
Hi, I am Branden Dyer a first year Michigan Nonprofit Association VISTA at Oakland University serving with the Auburn Hills College Access Network. The community and college I am serving in are both quite large. There is alot of things going on and people to meet. I have been here about 2 months now and still trying figure out how I can be most effective and who I can help the most. I just finished updating a community asset map the previous VISTA started. There was a lot of internet research to check websites, emails, address and etc to make sure the info was correct. This map will help community members connect with each other and find resources and services available in their community. A department at Oakland University is going to see if we can take the database and turn it into a web based map to be more useful to local residents.
College Application working is coming up at the end of Oct and I have been busy recruiting college students at Oakland University to help out at Pontiac and Auburn Hills High School. I have reached out to Resident Life staff, Student Clubs and different departments to help with this effort. I have been connecting with local area business to ask for gift cards and prizes to give out to students throughout the week.
I am looking into building a connection with the Pontiac Promise Zone and see how we can help them build capacity and connect them to some other resources in the community and at the college. At the board meeting for the Auburn Hills College Access Network a staff member from Michigan College Access Network came in and gave a presentation that was interesting and we learned more about what their do. All the staff and community members have been very supportive and I am excited to see what comes in the future.
I’m DeVante McCullom, a first-year VISTA serving Jackson Public Schools and a few other schools within Jackson County. My job is to coordinate service learning projects for the schools I serve. I also act as a link between the schools and their community partners.
My service year has started pretty slowly. I’ve met and built relationships with many of the different organizations that I will be working with throughout the school year but, sadly, I haven’t had the same luck with many of the teachers from schools outside of my host site, Bennett Elementary. I feel as though this will change soon since teachers have had more time to settle into their classrooms.
Besides this setback, my year has been steady. I’ve recently completed my first service learning event at Bennett. A few classrooms got together to clean the playground behind the school. We also painted and hanged bird houses. We tied this event to a lesson about recycling and we learned about some of the local birds and their dietary needs. I have another event lined up for the end of the month with a class from Northwest Elementary. We plan to visit the Jackson Friendly Home, a shelter here in Jackson, and we’re going to play games and read to the residents.
My goal for this year is to organize activities that can be done annually. I think I’ve found a good place to start with the “Bennett Goes Green” event but there is still plenty of work to do here.
All in all, my time in Jackson has been great. I’m meeting a lot of really awesome and dedicated people and I’m loving every minute of it. I hope you guys are too!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!