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Photo: Students serving lunch
Students in the Sigma Omicron Pi service sorority serve lunch and clean up at the Louden Nelson Center lunch for senior citizens. Photo: Jim MacKenzie

June 5, 2006

Student volunteers pitching in throughout the community

By Louise Donahue

Whether it’s serving lunch to senior citizens, helping young cancer patients, or tutoring English-learners, UCSC students find ways to get involved in their community.

The contributions of individual volunteers and student organizations were celebrated at the annual Service Recognition Awards May 31. (See related story)

“I think the community would be surprised by the depth and breadth of student volunteerism,” said Larry Trujillo, executive director of Student Academic Support Services, who estimates that nearly three quarters of students do some volunteer work in the community.

Matching would-be volunteers to community needs is the Student Volunteer Connection, which keeps tabs on hundreds of volunteer positions up and down the Central Coast. “There are so many volunteer opportunities with nonprofits in Santa Cruz, students can find whatever they are looking for,” said Kimberly Weber, co-coordinator, with Nicole Teutschel, of the Volunteer Connection. Other students become involved in “service learning” through classes or their colleges or participate in internships with nonprofit organizations.

The chance to mingle with senior citizens is a big draw for the students pulling lunch duty at the Carnation Café, the weekday Meals on Wheels activity at the Louden Nelson Community Center. Several students at a time from UCSC’s Praxis service learning organization and the Sigma Omicron Pi service sorority serve lunch and clean up. “Everyone’s really friendly,” said sorority president Jeannie Lieu. “They say they like seeing some young faces. It’s cool.” . . .Over at the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz, about 10 students fill gaps in staffing by coaching basketball, tutoring, and even teaching music lessons. With little money for extra staff, the students fill an important need, said executive director Matt Koumaras, a UCSC graduate. “The kids are happy to have someone to talk to. The students come in very motivated. It makes all the difference,” he said.…Five student interns from the campus Women’s Center conduct weekly art and creative writing workshops for women incarcerated at Blaine Street Jail.

Focusing on hunger and health

At the Homeless Garden Project, about 30 students each year do everything from planting and harvesting to helping write grants and other office duties, says executive director Dawn Coppin. “We rely on them. They’re integral to our operations, year in and year out.”…Fundraising efforts are the chief concern for five student interns raising money to expand the child care facility at the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center. . . Some students’ volunteer work ties in closely with their course work. Student Volunteer Connection co-coordinator Weber, a legal studies and politics major who hopes to someday specialize in elder law, is off to a good start doing office work and helping prepare documents at Senior Citizens Legal Services.

About 50 to 75 UCSC students are helping out “in one way or another” at Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Center, says director Sally Green. Students do everything from organizing bone marrow registration drives for potential donors to helping youngsters make Valentine’s Day cards. Students from UCSC’s Lambda Pi Epsilon  fraternity arrived en masse to take down tents and clean up after the cancer center’s Kidrageous carnival, Green says. . . . Students turn out in force for Second Harvest food drives on campus. Some fan out in the community for the Student Volunteer Connection’s “brown bag drives,” dropping off bags to be filled with nonperishable food and picked up later for Second Harvest. This year, students collected more food than faculty and staff combined. Others skip dinner in the dining halls and arrange to “donate” the cost to Second Harvest through the Student Volunteer Connection’s Meal Plan Drive in conjunction with University Dining Services.…Students who are part of the campus Newman Center help prepare and serve lunch at the St. Francis Soup Kitchen, take care of children at the Siena House, and make sandwiches for the homeless in downtown Santa Cruz.

Tutoring and more

At the New Horizons School for Homeless Children, UCSC student volunteers reinforce messages staff members try to instill in students, such as the benefits of going to college. “It really has given our students a sense of possibility,” said director Patricia Morales. In addition to helping teachers and tutoring, one UCSC student helped develop a photography program. Another student made a documentary about the school as a class project. “I can’t tell you how much that documentary has helped in our fundraising efforts,” Morales said. With about six UCSC student volunteers, Morales says she’d be happy to have even more. . . . More than 50 students each quarter trek to Pescadero to tutor and mentor youngsters—many from farmworker families—at Pescadero School. Originally conceived as a way to help high school seniors, the “Step to College” program has gradually expanded to younger and younger ages, says Trujillo of UCSC. “By fourth grade, they’re starting to know what a university is. It’s changing the whole culture.”. . . At Barrios Unidos, students do a little cooking, cleaning, and filing, but are especially interested in tutoring high school students, and youngsters in the Kids Club and youth groups….Three interns are working with the national Justice Now project, with an office in Oakland, to write curriculum materials to be integrated into classroom instruction about women in prison, prison reform, and related issues.

This is just sampling of the students who make time to make a difference on the Central Coast. To learn more about becoming a volunteer or to look for potential volunteers, go to the Student Volunteer Connection web site.

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