GSU students gain volunteer hours

Tayler Critchlow

Georgia Southern University provides students with weekly, and sometimes daily, volunteer opportunities through its Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (OSLCE).

“In our office we believe that service is the purest expression of leadership and what we are all about in the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement is developing student leaders and we do that through several different ways, volunteering is one of them,” Todd Deal, Ph.D., director of OSLCE, said.

The OSLCE has partnered with a little over 50 community partner agencies and as a whole the university received over 300,000 volunteer hours last year. “The way we do volunteering is by issue,” Deal said. “So if you’re interested, let’s say, in affordable housing, there are several groups in Statesboro that work for affordable housing. If it’s children’s issues, whether it’s childhood obesity or literacy or tutoring, they are arranged on our website by issue and a student can click on those issues and see a list of the agencies.”

The most popular issues for students are ones dealing with children in any way, Deal said. “I would say that I’m pretty passionate about disaster relief; it’s an opportunity to just connect when people are really kind of down and out and really needing support and even if you’re an unskilled volunteer you can come in and help pick up the pieces, quite literally, right after some kind of disaster has just come through and help them start down that path of putting their lives back together,” Katy Kaesebier, Alternative Breaks and Community Partnerships coordinator, said.

“[What I’m passionate about] would probably be a combination of things,” Tiara Johnson, Alternative Breaks and Community Partnership graduate assistant, said. “All kind of relating back to education, even though I’m not an education major I truly believe that education equalizes everyone and puts everyone on an equal playing field.”

The 50 community partner agencies that the OSLCE works with closely underwent an extensive Community Partner Assessment two years ago that included a two-hour long interview of each partner, Deal said.

In the interview, the partners were asked about the structure of the organization, what kind of volunteers they would need and if the volunteers would need background checks and special training, Deal said.

The university will provide background checks to students for free if it is required of the community partner agency.

“It is kind of a foundational idea in establishing volunteerism in a community; oftentimes people will come into a community and want to serve and they’ll pick their favorite place and go serve when it turns out there is another agency that needs more help,” Deal said.

The OSLCE has a program that targets eleven of the issues students are most interested in and hires students as liaisons for that agency, and the job of the liaison is to develop volunteer opportunities for GSU students, faculty and staff, Deal said.

Not having means of transportation is not an excuse for students wishing to volunteer with the OSLCE. During the week the office will provide transportation to students at least once a day to go for a two to three hour volunteer experience, Deal said.

These daily excursions are led by student leaders who have a passion for volunteering, Deal said. The student leaders do not get paid, but they come to the OSLCE and express their interest in leading a group of students on a volunteer trip. They become certified to drive the van and the office advertises the event, after which they take other student volunteers with them.

“A lot of students are always focused on just going to school and making it through but I think that this has taught me a lot about myself but also what the community has to offer. It’s kind of that bridge between the gap of the community and the students so it’s always nice to see people going to the other side,” Johnson said.

The OSLCE also have weeklong volunteering opportunities for students called Alternative Break trips. These trips are held on scheduled school breaks and give students the opportunity to go outside Statesboro and help other communities.

The OSLCE follows a model called Active Citizenship that symbolizes the growth that a person enters when volunteering.

Deal said, “So it’s really important for students to understand [volunteering], especially as they head toward graduation, because we think of our students stepping into communities and being the leaders.”