Personal Experiences Give Insight Into Expansive Service Culture
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 00:09
If there’s one thing that students at Boston College know how to do with astounding dedication, it’s volunteering. Anyone who passed by the numerous tables and enthusiastic club members at the Student Activities Fair on Friday undoubtedly saw at least several tables for service organizations, all promising to help you utilize your time in the most rewarding way possible. And if you somehow missed these groups, have no fear: the Volunteer Fair, sponsored by the Volunteer Service and Learning Center (VSLC), will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 10 for those who want to learn more about the various organizations devoted to service.
The VSLC is the one-stop spot for all service-oriented groups at BC—just take a look at their website, and you will have access to multitudes of volunteer opportunities, whether it be through their online database, programs sponsored by the department, on-campus groups, or service and immersion trips.
“The role that we play at the University is to be the primary gateway for any student that wants to serve,” said Daniel Ponsetto, the Welles R. Crowther Director for Volunteer & Service Learning at the Center. Ponsetto has served as the director for the VSLC since it was established 10 years ago, and was a campus minister prior to assuming his current position. The mission of the VSLC is two-fold: one, that any BC student that wants to serve is able to do so, and two, that students engage in what Ponsetto calls “conscientious and thoughtful service” with members of the community.
“It’s about realizing that I can learn from others’ life experiences and discover things about myself and my own ability to care about another person, because of this relationship,” he said. To ensure that students find the organization that is best for them, the VSLC offers one-on-one counseling for anyone who is struggling to choose among the vast amounts of opportunities available.
Making a decision is not always as simple as pointing and clicking—some on-campus organizations require an application process and certain time commitments, to ensure that those who are serving are fully dedicated to the group, and to accommodate for constraints in placements and resources. It’s not just a question of where to volunteer—the people who you work with also become an integral aspect of the service experience. For groups such as Jumpstart and 4Boston, which both take BC students into the city of Boston to work at various placements, the relationships between the volunteers themselves, and the connections established with those at the placements truly define the BC motto of men and women for others.
Jumpstart is a national organization with a chapter established at BC, and sends students into Boston to work with preschool children from low-income areas. Last year, about 50 students participated in Jumpstart, but this year the group is hoping to increase the number of participants to 70, as explained by Rebecca Schollmeyer, the volunteer coordinator for Jumpstart at BC and LSOE ’15.
“I personally can’t imagine BC without Jumpstart,” Schollmeyer said. “I think it’s an amazing way to make friends, build leadership skills, and develop connections with different groups of people.” BC students are assigned to preschools with about six to seven other students, so they have the chance to become very close with other Jumpstart volunteers.
Each Jumpstart team consists of core members, which are paired up with two to three preschool students, and a team leader, who brings the class together after small-group reading work to engage in activities, games, and song. Schollmeyer noted that there are definitely some challenges—it can be difficult to encourage family involvement, for example, and working with ELL students. Overcoming these difficulties, however, actually enhances the experience, Schollmeyer noted.
“I think that is the most rewarding thing—when you get through to students, you can see it in their faces, and it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s amazing watching the kids improve from beginning to end,” she added, noting that the program is a year-long commitment. “Our goal is to give the preschool children who are from low-income neighborhoods an opportunity to catch up to their peers who come from higher-income families. We don’t want them to start kindergarten at a disadvantage.”
While working with these students, Schollmeyer has come to the realization that she wants to teach in a low-income area, and she noted that other students have recognized a desire to teach through Jumpstart.
“I think that I’ve realized where I can really make a difference and how I can make a difference,” she said. “On my team last year, there were people from A&S and CSOM who picked up a minor in education or switched to Lynch just because they were so impacted by the work they do with the kids and really seeing firsthand the difference they can make in the classroom.”