March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 42°F


Service Saturday volunteer program has grown in recent years

There are 8,760 hours in a year. For the average college student, those hours are spent working, hanging out with friends and doing homework. However, for students who participate in Service Saturdays, more than 1,700 of those hours are spent doing community service.

Service Saturday is a volunteer-based program organized by Don Austin, assistant director of community service and leadership development in the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs. Austin said the program has had about a 150 percent increase in student participation only two years after its creation in the 2009–10 academic year.

Austin said one of the biggest appeals that typically increase participation is guaranteeing transportation to and from the host site for every volunteer.

“One thing that I immediately implemented was to make sure that transportation was something that is always provided for volunteers,” Austin said. “Such a significant amount of students, whether they’re freshmen or seniors, don’t have vehicles that they bring to campus.”

Austin said he implemented new ideas to continue the progress of Service Saturdays. To show appreciation for each volunteer’s commitment to community service, a recognition day is scheduled in the fall and spring semester. At Volunteer Appreciation Day, OSEMA thanks volunteers through free breakfast and giveaways.

Junior Matt Deveau has been a loyal participant of Service Saturdays since his freshman year. His continuous support of the program earned him the Service Saturday Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012.

“I try to attend every single Service Saturday,” Deveau said. “You can tell that each organization is extremely grateful for our volunteer work.”

Deveau said participating in Service Saturdays has given him valuable exposure to the local community.

His community service at the college began when he participated in Community Plunge, a program for first-year students to volunteer and connect with the Ithaca community before the academic year begins. He said the experience inspired him to become a Jumpstart leader, and since then he has been a consistent and reliable participant of Service Saturdays.

“I like the projects that involve hard labor, activities that aren’t as easy to accomplish,” Deveau said.

To make students even more eager to join the program, Service Saturdays plans fun and enjoyable events, Austin said. Students interact with residents at the Beechtree Care Center, prepare packages to send to inmates at Books Through Bars and hand-pick gifts to be donated to charity at the Alternative Gift Fair.

“A lot of students like the opportunity to plug into these events, and they can say, ‘This is such a successful event in part because volunteers make it happen,’” Austin said.

The list of service projects to take part in doesn’t stop there — Service Saturdays has built close relationships with community partners within the last four years, Austin said. From programs that focus on prisoner education and advocacy, community gardens, food justice in the city and programs that help the youth, students have a wide spectrum of volunteer work to choose from.

Austin said students see the community-service activities as a social opportunity as well. There are constantly groups of friends and student organizations signing up to participate together, which makes volunteering more fun because students can learn about the community with their friends.

“When you can make volunteering fun, you’ve found the Holy Grail of volunteering, because that’s really the key,” Austin said.

The purpose of the program is about more than getting on a bus to volunteer for a few hours, then return to the college and continuing an average student’s day. It offers students the opportunity to talk among their peers about why volunteer work is important and what motivates students to do it, Austin said.

From the community perspective, Sam Goyret, an event coordinator at the Brooktondale Community Center, said students’ volunteer work is essential for the execution of events.

“They have provided an invaluable service,” Goyret said. “By having them come and help with our events, they really help the community center and community at large.”

Austin said he partnered with the Brooktondale Community Center for Service Saturday three years ago. Since, the community center has played a large part in organizing annual events such as the Brooktondale Apple Fest and Book Sale.

Service Saturdays provide direct service that supplement and enhance an organization’s ability to accomplish its mission, Austin said. Goyret said volunteers are vital to keeping the Brooktondale Community Center open.

“None of our staff gets paid, so volunteers are the key support to keep organizations up and running,” Goyret said.

With more than 1,000 participants over the last four years, Austin said, he hopes to establish more partnerships with student organizations whose members could volunteer as a group, and he wants to recruit more participants for Service Saturday.

“It’s urgent, it’s necessary, and it’s appreciated,” Austin said. “I can’t expect anything less for the next year.”