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STUDENT SURVIVAL GUIDE '12: Volunteering

Helping others, helping yourself: Why college is the perfect time to get involved in the community

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All those hours of community service in high school paid off: you've been accepted into college. You did your good deeds for the world -- and let's be honest, to brighten up that application -- and you're done. Now it's time to focus on your future for the next four years, right? Wrong. College is the perfect time to look at volunteering with a fresh set of eyes. Not only can the experience give you a leg up come job-hunting time, but it can also help to give you a better understanding of your new surroundings, and to develop stronger leadership skills.

            If you're interested in volunteering, most college campuses have a community-service center that can point you in the right direction, and support your goals along the way [see sidebar]. Many offices offer short-term and long-term projects, on- and off-campus service opportunities, lists of partner organizations, and often offer leadership training to build interpersonal skills.

            "Our goal is to get as many students involved in the Rochester community as possible," says Molly McGowan, director of the Leadership Institute & Community Service Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "They learn to work with diverse groups of people and build leadership skills." RIT has gotten students involved with programs like the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester, Cancer Act, and The Children's Institute. But those are only a few of the Community Service Center's more than 200 community partners.

Giving back is the perfect way to meet new people as you navigate your way through campus life. A wide array of student groups either center around community service or make getting involved part of their missions. These groups are a great option if you are unsure about committing to a project, or think you don't have enough time, as they can help you stay connected throughout the chaos of classes and exams. It helps to have a support group that can keep you focused. Information on many of these groups are can be found during orientation week, at club fairs, on your school's website, or through the community service office.

            "Try to get connected as soon as possible; it's a great way to meet other students and learn about the community," says Adam Lewandowski, assistant director of Nazareth College's Office of Community Service.

            The earlier you get involved, the more opportunities will be available to you. And as you become an upperclassman, your network of connections will grow. Service trips like alternative spring break--intensive service projects, such as building homes with Habitat for Humanity -- are often only open to students with volunteer seniority, so it helps to get involved in the community early to secure your spot. These trips allow you to travel to places like North Carolina, Florida, or Georgia to help others in need, as well the possibility of enjoying a nice day at the beach or exploring a new city. Going beyond the cheap vacation and balmy skies, the work is focused and in-depth, which can lead to even bigger personal rewards and leave a positive mark wherever you happen to go.

In addition to making a positive impact on the community, volunteering can add major brownie points to your resume, connect you with potential employers, and open up opportunities for internships. "Employers definitely want to see a well-rounded student," says RIT's McGowan. "Co-ops [and internships] are competitive."

            The skills learned from volunteering can be extremely useful in any career. Learning how to properly nail siding, teaching someone how to read, or understanding how to manage a non-profit organization can all contribute to landing a job you want in small or even big ways.

            Community service can also help you decide what you want to do with your future. "It gives students the opportunity to get involved in a chosen career field," says Nazareth's Lewandowski. For those interested in service opportunities Nazareth has partnerships with Generation Two, Hillside Family of Agencies, and The Sojourner House; those interested in education can partner with the Rochester City School District, the Southwest Community Center, or the YMCA, to name a few. A volunteer position may help you to decide what you do and do not like about the realities of your dream job, so you can tailor your classes toward what you know you want, and make the right choices for your future.

            Jessica Rose, a junior at University of Rochester, is proof of the benefits that come from giving back. "People always say, 'You're doing great work,' but you get as much out of it as you put into it," she says. "I've grown into a person I like." Rose currently works as an intern at Mary's Place Outreach on Lexington Avenue, which services Rochester's refugee community. There she teaches children ages 8 to 15 basic English and helps them acclimate to Rochester's public school system. But her list of community service is both extensive and exciting.

            It started in high school with a church mission trip with friends to Kentucky, where they helped to fix housing and worked on other projects. "The first year it was just, 'This is fun,'" says Rose. "By the second or third year we understood what we were doing." When she got to college, it was only natural for her to continue volunteering, and Habitat for Humanity had a familiar mission. The more she looked, the more she found, and before long she was building homes in Thailand. "You learn a lot about human decency," Rose says. Volunteering "makes you more aware of the world."

            Giving back helps you learn about the community around you. Rochester is your home for the next four years, and by getting involved with it, you'll be introduced to the people of this city, its places, and be reminded that people exist from all walks of life.

            "There is a huge need in the local and global community for students to step up and get involved," says McGowan. Now it's your turn.

On-Campus Volunteer Centers

Nazareth College Department of Community Service

Golisano 155, 389-2307

naz.edu/community-service

University of Rochester Community Service Network

Wilson Commons

sa.rochester.edu/clubs/CSN

RIT Leadership Institute & Community Service Center

RIT Campus Center, Building 3, Suite 1030, 475-4110

http://campuslife.rit.edu/leadership

SUNY Brockport Community Development

B105 Seymour Union, 395-5245

brockport.edu/serve/

St. John Fisher Community Service Office

Campus Center 225, 385-8196

sjfc.edu/student-life/community-service/

NOTE: Not all campuses have an office for community service, but that shouldn't stop you from getting involved, as student groups and other volunteering opportunities still exist. You just have to find them.

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