Remembering to value service

The Lehman Community Service Council has been busy this month, but if you asked the average student, you probably wouldn’t know it. Perhaps you are one of those people who have never heard of the Lehman Council. In brief, it is an umbrella organization through which almost all service activities on campus are run. There is a ten-member board, which keeps things organized and sponsors events like Service Weeks, weekly service projects for those who can’t commit every week and many other events.

We try to be visible, but it seems a lot of people don’t know of our existence. Well, consider yourself informed. We have a case in Baxter (behind the tables, near the WCFM case) where weekly schedules are posted, and there is also a list of the board members with contact info if you want to get involved. In addition, we send out a packet of activities and host a fair at the beginning of every semester. We use the back room in the Chaplain’s office, and we even have a website with lots of information (http://wso.williams.edu/orgs/lehman/ – go visit).

So if we have been so busy lately, what have we been doing? Have you seen the “service is sexy” posters up all over campus? These posters, topped by the same super sexy cow that is on our t-shirts, were just one way we tried to advertise our events. We hosted a panel on the place of service-learning at Williams and a talk by Lari Brandstein, who coordinates volunteers at the Berkshire Farm. Kathy Keeser, from the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, came to tell us about the needs in this area.

We kicked off all these events with an all campus service day on April 13. We spent the weeks leading up to it trying to recruit students to get involved in a one-time service activity for just three hours on a Saturday (or Friday). Though it was admittedly a busy weekend, we had less than 20 volunteers on both days combined, despite offering three different time slots. The individual projects were a lot of fun, but 20 is hardly a great turnout, especially considering the effort that goes into making such a day happen.

Our other large event (which you may have heard of) was on April 26 when 16 acts performed in a benefit that ended up raising just over $1,000 for the Chrysalis Community in Vermont. I was thrilled by the turnout for this event and at people’s generosity, but I wish that we could get more people excited about our other activities too.

Perhaps you are thinking you would have gone to something if you’d known about it. Okay. Fair enough. We advertised for the weeks in general and many of the events in the daily messages, Daily Advisor and by all campus e-mail. Everyone on campus got a schedule in their S.U. box two weeks ago. We have posters up all over campus, and we tabled in Baxter. What else should we do? Are we not reaching people? Or do students hear about these activities and choose not to go? And if so, why? Please tell me what you think. I am open to comments and suggestions, and want to do anything we can to get students involved.

I understand that people here are all over-committed and have varying priorities, but why is it that community service doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list? I’m not trying to attack anyone’s choices on what they do with their free time, but I do wonder why so few people spend it doing service.

There is definitely a need in this area: one third of households in northern Berkshire county fall below the self-sufficiency standard, and the median income is over 25 percent less than that in the rest of the state (figures from the Northern Berkshire community coalition webpage). So my question is, what should we do to get students involved in service here? What kinds of activities are we missing and when should we offer them? I want to make it easy for every student here to get involved.

And next year (for you non-seniors), when the packet of service activities arrives in your S.U. box, try taking it home and looking through it instead of throwing it in the recycling bin in the mailroom. You might be surprised by how many opportunities there are and would probably find one that sounds fun and that can fit into your schedule. If you see something missing, let us know, and we will try to fix it. And come out for an event sometime – you might be surprised – service is not something that ends when you are accepted to college. It can be a dynamic and fun experience, a two-way exchange that expands your horizons and makes a difference in another person’s life. I would love to hear your thoughts, and I hope to see you at the talk tonight, and at other events in the future.