College students are often chided for failing to contribute to the community of which they are invariably a part. However, making positive or substantive changes is not as easily done as it is said; setting up projects can be a struggle, and the absence of a dependable core of volunteers can severely hinder the efficacy of the action. Finding a project flexible enough to accommodate fluctuations is often close to impossible.
Fortunately for the Williams campus, the Lehman Community Service Council has chosen to address this dilemma. Starting last semester, the Lehman Council has run Saturday Service Projects, which feature a different task and location each week. And, as Lehman Council member Mike Ramberg ’00 said, “These Saturday morning projects provide a great opportunity for students with schedules that do not permit regular commitment to a service group. They can just show up when they have the time.”
Generally, the projects attract between four and five people, which is, according to Lehman Council vice-president Debbie Ebert ’00, “usually perfect for the kinds of projects we set up.” However, this past weekend provided a first for the Saturday Service Projects â€“ too many volunteers for the activity, and therefore the need to turn volunteers away. Ebert attributed this to the nature of the day’s project â€“ walking the dogs and playing with the cats at the Berkshire Humane Society in Pittsfield.
The difficulties associated with one-time service endeavors, however, have not abated. Those who organize the Saturday Service Projects â€“ Lehman Council members Ebert, Ramberg, and Tracy Zanco ’01 â€“ have come to realize that simply finding one-time projects is a challenge. As Ebert said, “It’s hard to find a place that needs help for just one morning. A lot of times, they feel like they are doing extra work to accommodate us â€“ which is not how service projects should ideally work.”
Berkshire Humane Society employee Matt Robitaille echoed the same sentiment. “What we are really looking for is a reliable group that can come and walk our dogs and play with the cats on some kind of continual basis.” This quandary is especially pronounced in other situations â€“ such as soup kitchens â€“ that are faced with continual shortages that cannot be solved by one-time volunteer groups.
Admirably, Lehman Council members still strive to secure a mix of projects. As Ebert said, “We try to have variety in the types of projects so that different kinds of interests are represented.” So far, some of the more popular projects have been painting shelters, working with the Berkshire Farm for Boys, helping at the St. Patrick’s Food Pantry, and, of course, playing with the animals at the Berkshire Humane Society. In addition, grounds clean-ups for elderly community members are always an option. Ramberg recalls that “sharing ginger ale and chocolate chip cookies with an elderly North Adams woman after chipping through the thick layer of ice and snow that covered her front walk made all the toil worthwhile.”
Members of Lehman Council also mentioned the conflict they have in publicizing the events. Zanco noted, “Ideally, we would like to compose a list of all the projects for the month to display, but it is difficult since projects are sometimes hard to come by and subject to change.”
Ramberg added, “I think we do as much advertising as we can â€“ Daily Advisor, signs, our bulletin boards â€“ given our limited resources and the difficulty of arranging these projects.” A possible problem that can arise as a result of publicity, however, is the case of more volunteers attending the project than the location can house. This can lead to volunteers feeling unappreciated or in the way, and the groups receiving the service feeling frustrated.
Another variable is the individual responses to volunteers. At a crowded or busy service project, employees may not have the time or inclination to express their thanks. Volunteers may feel like their respective aid was not significant or meaningful. Of course, volunteers may come to this conclusion regardless of the expressions of employees; the fact that it is a one-time service project may make volunteers feel that their contributions are so minimal that they are virtually insignificant. Most of the time, however, this conclusion is unfounded, since it is a rare occasion that volunteer work is not appreciated.
Zanco hopes to minimize the possibility of these snags by expanding the program. Coordinating Saturday projects with those that other Lehman Council members organize and increasing the base of opportunities will hopefully alleviate size issues.
Community Service Day in April will bring about more one-time service opportunities, and Lehman Council as well as community members hope that it will bring about more student volunteers. As Zanco said, “It’s only two hours of your week, and it will make you smile.”