When I was in high school, from homeless shelters to tutoring programs, community service was my thing. It was a large part of my consideration in choosing a college; when I visited Williams, the community service program was presented as an essential part of the College. I was excited to be able to continue pursuing my passion.
However, since I’ve been at the College, I’ve found myself disappointed time and again in the opportunities – or lack thereof – to engage in community service. When I went to the Purple Key Fair my freshman fall, I signed up for the Lehman Council listserve and picked up a list of the current programs it was offering. Since many of the opportunities were unavailable to me – either because they required a car or because they were no longer happening – the options to choose from were limited. I finally decided on the Big Sibling program at Williamstown Elementary School. Despite being told we would hear about our match in a few weeks, the woman in charge never e-mailed me or my friends who had also signed up. By the time I realized this program was not going to work out, it was too late in the semester to join another. I was incredibly disappointed – a semester into my time at the College, I had found myself unable to get involved.
As I continued to look for more service opportunities, I found myself having trouble finding them. I didn’t hear about any despite my being on the service listserve. I went to the spring semester Purple Key Fair and looked yet again for opportunities. I found few that were possible for me: As a spring athlete, my late afternoon hours were consumed by practice. Many of the programs they offered were afterschool tutoring programs that met around 4 p.m., the same time as practice. I found that my participation in athletics had left service opportunities even less accessible.
Eventually, I did find a program that worked. An athlete was starting a tutoring program that would meet from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Brayton Elementary – the perfect hours to be back in time for practice. While I was thrilled to finally be involved, the program has changed this year, and I end up driving to Brayton to be in a classroom for about 40 minutes.
Obviously, regular programs cannot accommodate everybody – but some of the one-day events that the larger community can be involved in also seem inaccessible. Tropical Storm Irene left the College with perfect opportunities to help those less fortunate in the surrounding areas, and the College particularly decided to take action at The Spruces. I went on one of the first days that there were volunteers; we got there and there was nothing for us to do because it a was last-minute project and not well thought out. We ended up walking around for over an hour looking for things on our own. A couple weeks later, one of my friends wanted to go but was unsure if the volunteering was happening. They e-mailed the morning of to say that it was still on. It is difficult to plan to attend events when they are not advertised in advance. While the College certainly rallied around The Spruces and made a huge difference with all of its hard work there – from raising money to moving people out of their homes – I wish that opportunities to participate in the work there were broadcasted more to students so that attendance could be even greater.
Due to serious obstacles, many service opportunities are not readily available – and even those that are available are not widely known about. I think that Lehman Council needs to revamp its program in such a way that it actively enables students to participate in service – whether it is a one-day opportunity or a commitment for a year. They could host more events like Winter Blitz, which many are involved in every year. They need to post the upcoming programs somewhere. They should also take the time to update a community service website. Currently, if you click the “Community Service” page on the Williams website, it takes you to a broken link. If you do take the time to find their webpage, you can see that under “Service Groups” the most recent update was Sept. 29, and many programs that are listed lack descriptions. There needs to be a website that we know we can count on to inform us of opportunities. Because the service options are made up of such a variety of programs, it might be productive if there were a day where the College sets up tables explaining a little about each option. Although there was a fair in Paresky earlier in the year for community service opportunities, these were not the College’s programs. It would make sense for us to have a fair to promote our own programs; if we want people to participate, we need to make sure they are aware of the opportunities that are available.
Here at the College, we are encouraged to participate in the world outside the purple bubble, told to embrace the community around us and expected to make the lives of those we interact with better. I think that given more accessible opportunities, we could make that ideal a reality.
Ali Piltch ’14 is from Bryn Mawr, Penn. She lives in Thompson.