Volunteer programs to restart next week

Molly Johanson

Sophomore Kenna Little knew from the start that she wanted to get involved in community service on campus.

“It helps break the Whitman bubble and realizes the needs of the community, which you don’t see a lot on campus,” said Little. “I started volunteering with Adopt-A-Grandparent and have slowly been joining more and more programs.”

The programs offered are the Mentor Program, Adopt-A-Grandparent, the Story Time Project, Youth-Adventure-Program and two community service trips, one in August and one over spring break. Aside from the service trips, all programs are starting up for the year on Monday, Oct. 4.

Though the total number of students volunteering in programs through the Student Engagement has yet to be determined, it is above last year’s 467 students, or 31 percent of the student body. Every one of the five programs has increased enrollment this year.

It’s no surprise that students feel such ownership for what they do because, except for the Story Time Project, all of these programs were created by Whitman students.

Not only were these programs started by students, but they’re also are run by students. Each program employs at least one student intern.

A major part of the intern’s job for each program is matching volunteers with different community partners, kids and elders. Both the Mentor Program and the Story Time Project consider similar variables: transportation, gender, age group preference, language preference and what time volunteers are available.

For the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, other factors are considered such as whether or not the student volunteer would like a grandparent with mental or physical disabilities, or whether they would like an active or stationary grandparent. Enrollment is up slightly to about 75 volunteers.

This year, the Story Time Project has 90 participants, up about 20 from last year.  For senior Claire Oatey, Story Time Project intern, the project brings together many of her passions. As a sociology and education major, she is excited to help with a program that promotes literacy and reading comprehension.

“It’s essential to life,” Oatey said. “Reading to kids is the highlight of my week!”

For the project, a pair of volunteers reads at a library, elementary, middle, or pre-school in the area for a half hour per week.

“I was always surprised at how focused the four to five year-old kids were the whole time,” said sophomore Morgan Caverhill.

The program also stresses that it is a group-oriented program, rather than simply a tutoring program. Though the volunteers read to groups of mixed gender, the program still seeks more male volunteers.

According to the Center on Education Policy, boys scored lower than girls on reading test scores in every state. Oatey feels that this is a problem that often flies under the radar.

“Having male readers gives boys good examples that other boys are excited about reading,” said Oatey.

The Mentor Program, too, had a problem with male enrollment. Last year the ratio of male to female volunteers was about one to four. This year it is more balanced, in part because of their work recruiting in fraternities. The total number of mentors jumped from 130 to 175 people, making it Whitman’s biggest volunteer program.

This, in turn, made matching mentors with mentees time consuming.

“We’re both math majors, so we like the process,” said senior Andrew Matschiner, one of the Mentor Program interns about him and his co-intern senior Rachel Sicheneder.

One of the most important functions of the Mentor Program is to be a consistent and reliable part of a young person’s life.

“Mentoring is such an effective way to make a difference,” said Matschiner. “You get to be a stable and reliable presence that sometimes parents aren’t. It’s better than a food drive, it’s a regular investment.”

For senior Matt Manley, intern and founder of the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, community outreach is essential.

“[The program] facilitates relationships with elders that students frequently lack during their college years,” Manley said, “and introduces Whitties to some really great people in their community. I think the creation of the program is a great example of Whitman and the Community Service Office supporting new ideas and student interests with regards to volunteering.”

The increased involvement shows how community service is an integral part of Whitman culture.

“As a Whitman College student, I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life,” said sophomore Robby Seager. “However, not everyone’s so fortunate, so it’s my duty to give back to all the communities that have helped me, and then some.”