Community service remains defining experience at Whitman

Kim Sommers

In a survey recently completed by Whitman community partners about their experience working with Whitman students the top five adjectives used to describe Whittie volunteers were: enthusiastic, friendly, energetic, willing to help and good with kids.   These positive qualities reflect not only upon the student body, but also the Center for Community Service, which, according to the center’s Coordinator Lena Menard, strives to “promote a service ethic on campus and provide opportunities for students to get involved.”

Since its inception in 1994, the Center for Community Service has expanded its role on campus beyond its initial task of organizing the Whitman Mentor Program.   Today, the center coordinates volunteer programs and opportunities for 300 student volunteers.

Across campus the center promotes volunteering opportunities by hosting biannual Volunteer Fairs, sending information to listservs, stuffing mailboxes, posting information on their Web site, coordinating Volunteer Club meetings, tabling in Reid, publishing a Guide to Volunteer Opportunities, hanging posters around campus, and organizing workshops.

“The CCS also brings a huge range of community partners to campus, each semester at the Volunteer Fair, where you can walk through the Reid Campus Center Ballroom and talk to representatives from The Odd Fellows Home, the Humane Society, the Children’s Museum, the Army Corps of Engineers and many more: a   really easy way to get linked up with an organization that suits your interests,” said junior and Center for Community Service Intern Amy Strauss.

The Center for Community Service also welcomes students to their office for individual consultations aimed at identifying good volunteer matches.

“It’s always especially fun to do one-on-one consultations so we can learn about a student’s passions and share information about volunteer opportunities that might be a good match for her/him,” said Menard.   “Our goal is to help students learn new skills that will help them become better students and better citizens, while using their talents and the knowledge they gain through classes to assist local non-profit organizations.”

Behind this effort is a firm belief in the positive effects of volunteering.   According to a 2006 Community Service Participation report done by Neal Christopherson, “Participation in community service is an important aspect of their Whitman College educational experience.”   The article cites that students who “participate in community service are more likely to say their Whitman education enhanced their awareness of social problems, or contributed to their development in and ability to contribute to the welfare of their community.”

“Through volunteering Whitman students can explore their personal and career interests and gain valuable experience,” said Menard.

Despite the positive effects, Christopherson’s report showed declining numbers in trends of incoming students interested in volunteering.   Numbers have declined from 51-52 percent in 1998-2001 to 44.9 percent in 2005, while numbers for all highly selective liberal arts colleges have been constant.   However, when graduating seniors from seven liberal arts colleges were polled in 2006 on whether or not they volunteered during their time at school, Whitman’s numbers were the second highest at 58.4 percent.

According to people who work in the Center for Community Service, further breakdowns of these numbers suggest that females, underclassmen and greeks tend to volunteer more.

“While all different kinds of people definitely volunteer at Whitman, it seems that there tend to be more females than males and more freshman than upperclassmen,in general,” said Strauss.   “RAs and greek philanthropy chairs tend to be key figures in getting people involved with volunteering: organized, group service projects generally motivate people about volunteering who may not have had the initiative to go find a project on their own.”

Likewise, senior and Center for Community Service Intern Kari Berkas sees these same trends naming communities such as the Interest House Community and greek groups as encouraging factors.

Regardless of trends, Whitman students continue to be a constructive force in the community.   The Center for Community Service is an integral piece of this success.

“I believe the Center for Community Service is a great success,” said Menard.