Does Whitman’s passion for service meet community needs?

Kinsey White

Involvement in philanthropy while at college is not a question for most Whitties. Four hundred twenty-three members of the Class of 2015: a whopping 82 percent of the class: participated in some form of community service while in high school. At the college level, this commitment to volunteerism takes many forms, from the Center for Community Service-organized programs to philanthropy through a Greek organization. As the Whitman influence in volunteering remains prominent within Walla Walla, students and staffers alike are calling for an expansion of volunteer horizons.

Junior Lesli Meekins spent her summer volunteering with the Walla Walla Public Library and the city’s Parks and Recreation department, running a summer reading program for students in four city parks.

“I don’t think Whitman students are aware of some very serious problems facing the Walla Walla community, especially issues related to migrant workers and their families,” said Meekins. “I think volunteering, no matter its application, is going to benefit the community. However, I feel as though most students limit themselves to issues they see and are familiar with rather than serious issues that we are not confronted with daily.”

While the Center for Community Service programs such as Adopt-a-Grandparent and the Storytime Project remain popular on campus, Meekins encourages students to look beyond these well-publicized opportunities to other organizations in need of student support such as Commitment to Community and the Community Center for Youth, which serve predominantly low-income residents of Walla Walla.

Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences Keith Farrington, who has done extensive research in relation to the penitentiary and its social effects on Walla Walla residents, recognizes income level as a serious issue in the community.

“I personally think that there is a fair amount of poverty in this community. I also think there’s a fairly substantial delinquency problem,” said Farrington. “I think that there’s a lot that can be done to steer kids in the right direction.”

In fact,   according to statistics compiled by the Community Center for Youth (CCY), 22 percent of Walla Walla County residents ages 10-19 live in poverty.

The CCY, which was established in 1999 in response to need, provides at-risk Walla Walla teens with enrichment programs and academic support. The CCY encourages the support and involvement of Whitman students.

“CCY youth bask in the attention they receive from Whitman students,” said Cynthia Selde, director of programs and operations at CCY. “Many of our youth come from dysfunctional homes and have been made to feel that they aren’t important . . . so to receive the attention of Whitman students means a great deal to them.   They begin to feel like they do matter and what they think and say is important.”

Through the consistent development of new community-outreach programs such as Summer Community Outreach Excursion (SCORE) trips for incoming first-year students, the college continues to create opportunities for volunteer work with Walla Walla residents. This, coupled with the proactive, empathetic outlook of many students, has faculty and students alike excited over volunteer opportunities.

“I think we have a very good presence in the community,” said Farrington. “I think what you [as a student] really need to do is get a survey of the landscape to figure out what is important to you, and what the needs are in the community, and then go about finding out how to plug yourself into a situation to get involved in those programs.”