Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1991

KU EDITION

August 17, 1991

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If President Bush needs some examples to illustrate his "thousand points of light" spirit of volunteerism, he can schedule a visit to Mount Oread.

At Kansas University, student volunteerism abounds. KU students have discovered that using their spare time to contribute to the community reaps rewards for themselves and the people they help.

Lanaea Heine, coordinator of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center, 211 E. Eighth, Suite G, interviews potential volunteers and refers them to agencies and services in the community. Although she doesn't calculate the number of KU students who visit her office, she says they make up a high percentage of volunteers.

"THE STUDENTS are great because they have flexible schedules," she said. "They're able to fill in those gaps that the 8-to-5 person can't help with."

The important role that students play as volunteers in the Lawrence community becomes apparent when they leave town for the summer and Heine receives a flurry of calls from panicked agencies in need of replacements.

A desire to help others isn't the only reason students volunteer their time. Some KU professors require a certain number of volunteer hours to receive credit for their classes. Some students simply want an excuse to get away from campus and a chance to meet people. And some students hope to enhance their resumes.

"I don't care what motivates you to volunteer and the agency doesn't care either," Heine said. "They're just excited that there's someone willing to give. Any reason that makes you willing to give your time to the community is a good reason."

In fact, Heine encourages students to consider the tangible benefits of volunteerism. Students can explore various interests and careers to tailor their studies at KU, and then go on to gain valuable experience as a volunteer in that field.

"IT'S EXCITING for students in that it's a wonderful way to do some career exploration," she said.

For example, a student might offer to volunteer at Lawrence Memorial Hospital a few hours each week. After realizing how much he or she enjoys the work, the student might decide to switch to a major in the health field.

Also, more and more companies are incorporating volunteerism as part of their corporate image, Heine said. Therefore, students with volunteer experience already have an advantage over other job applicants.

"You've already bought into something that's important to the company," she said. "That's what separates you from the other person."

Volunteer experience on a resume says a great deal about the job candidate that can't be easily discovered during an interview, such as time management skills and an ability to work closely with other people.

Everyone will claim "I'm a people person" if they think it'll help land the job, but volunteer work can prove the point, Heine said.

"I really believe that if a student graduates from KU or any college without any volunteer experience to put on their resume, they've made a terrible mistake," she said.

Students also work with people who can later serve as references, and some occasionally take paid internships with the business or agency they serve.

VISITORS TO the Roger Hill Volunteer Center fill out a "volunteer interest questionnaire" to help Heine determine how to best put their hobbies, skills and interests to use.

Volunteers-to-be indicate any particular group they are interested in working with, such as children, physically disabled people or animals, and any particular work that most interests them, such as working one-on-one with a single client, doing public speaking or helping with administrative duties. The questionnaire also includes a checklist of 50 specific items to clarify the applicants' interests. From advertising to yard maintenance, virtually any talent, skill or experience can be used in the community.

Heine then uses information from the questionnaire to match the student's interests with the needs of a particular agency.

Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, associate dean of liberal arts and associate professor of psychology, teaches a child psychology course, which attracts about 300 students each semester. She gives students two options either write three fairly detailed papers or volunteer 50 hours of community service. Usually, about half the students will chose to volunteer, she said.

"THE VOLUNTEER work is a little more time and a little more work, but students seem to enjoy it tremendously," she said. "I have them do it because when you have a class that large, it's hard to teach them about kids without any contact with kids."

McCluskey-Fawcett said the student volunteers report that their experiences are eye-opening. Many students who grew up in a middle- to upper-class lifestyle were never exposed to any other way of life.

"I want them to get in touch with the fact that 25 percent of children in this country live below poverty level," McCluskey-Fawcett said.

She integrates classwork with the hands-on volunteer work by requiring students to record their observations in a notebook and later incorporating lecture notes. The volunteers also submit a paper and other written reports, and the agencies determine one-third of their volunteer's grade.

McCluskey-Fawcett said many students continue to volunteer their time even after the class ends.

BILL MOSELY started volunteering in the Lawrence community during his first year at KU, and found it so worthwhile that he helped organize a program to encourage student volunteerism.

"KU can be like a different world," Mosely said. "Students can feel isolated and volunteering kind of brings you back to earth. I think you can get a lot of personal growth from helping other people. You can really see what you're doing to help these people and the agencies."

Anything students do to contribute to the community can make a difference, he said. Mosely frequently works with children of chemically dependent parents, and said some youngsters don't even know how to play.

"Even if it's just finger-painting with them or taking them to the pool, I know it helps," he said.

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