The Office of Campus and Community Engagement has undergone many changes in the past year in terms of staff, mission, and projects. The office, until recently, was originally split into the two separate offices of student involvement and community engagement.
Assistant Director of Community Engagement Chelsea Clements said the decision to combine the two really made sense.
“They’re mutually beneficial,” said Clements. “They really have to go together if we’re truly going to offer an awesome engagement experience.”
Clements added that the changes have helped teach students that what they do on campus and what they do in the community do not have to be exclusive to one another. Clements explained that there is now “an added level of support to do it together.”
“It’s very direct impact. While fundraising and that kind of philanthropy does have a really important place, a lot of people really like the feeling that what they’re literally doing right now is going to help somebody,” said Laura Daley.
Other fairly new elements to the office are the five community service student teams and the Adopt-A-Cause. Although both programs have been around a couple of years, the office is focusing on promoting them this year and having students more involved.
The community service teams focus on four issues: domestic violence, education, affordable housing and food justice. There are actually two volunteer teams tackling the issue of education. One team volunteers at the Carnegie Center while the other helps with YMCA at Lexington Traditional Magnet School.
The Adopt-A-Cause program is encouraging student organizations on campus to choose a cause or a community organization they are passionate about and they will work with that specific organization all year. Throughout the year, the students will communicate and find out what the organization needs and help them in any way seen fit.
One campus organization that is taking part in this is Students Against Hunger and Homelessness. The two co-presidents are Juniors Laura Daley and Ashton Wasson. Clements explained that the benefits behind both the volunteer teams and adopting a cause is for students to have a “sustained opportunity that is not just one day.”
Daley explained that the organization has been working with the Hope Center for a couple years now. Once a week, the students make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and take them to the center.
“Then they put them on the HopeMobile which goes around Lexington and gives out sandwiches to homeless people,” said Daley.
“There’s really an opportunity to learn. Whether that’s learning how a non-profit works or learning about the area the organization is in. There’s a lot of professional development and experience within it,” said Chelsea Clements.
Working directly with an organization like this is a very different experience than other forms of volunteering and philanthropy.
“It’s very direct impact. While fundraising and that kind of philanthropy does have a really important place, a lot of people really like the feeling that what they’re literally doing right now is going to help somebody. You know exactly who you’re helping and how you’re helping them,” said Daley. “When you partner with one organization you start forming relationships. You start to know that cause front and back, up and down. You learn and pick up on little things that you wouldn’t while doing a more expansive service.”
Students Against Homelessness and Hunger has partnered with both Sodexo and JIF. Sodexo donates all the bread every week as well as provides plastic spoons. JIF has donated peanut butter for the students to use.
Daley explained that finding those connections and resources has taught her to be resourceful and “to take advantage of what we do have access to.”
Volunteering does provide experience and learning outside of the service aspect. Clements described the whole mission of their office as being “founded on service learning. That students get the opportunity to be in the community and actually learn from it and reflect on it.”
Students who volunteer, through both the service teams and Adopt-A-Cause, gain professional and educational experience in addition to service experience.
“There’s much more to the collegiate experience than just doing well in class or on-campus organizations,” said Clements. “There’s really an opportunity to learn. Whether that’s learning how a non-profit works or learning about the area the organization is in. There’s a lot of professional development and experience within it.”
Clements also added that it is an “opportunity to create community outside of our bubble.”