Enterprising students make a change

Andrew Donohue

Alexandra Zuber and Sara Smith are roommates. They share a friendship, a small room in Middlebrook Hall and a community service organization.
The organization, Students building Awareness through Volunteer Experience, began this fall as a simple suggestion between the two honor students and blossomed into a 65-member machine throughout the course of the year.
“It’s really refreshing to see such great initiative in our residents,” said Girish Ballolla, Middlebrook Hall coordinator. “The program provides an opportunity for students to get out into the community and help.”
With extensive backgrounds in community service stretching back to high school, Zuber and Smith said they felt the University lacked a system that worked with the students’ time constraints.
Smith, a sophomore majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies, knows of time constraints first hand. She’s juggled community service, a job at Coffman Union and a position on the hall council since freshman year.
Her experience with an honors community service program left her yearning for an alternative.
“It wasn’t convenient for me to give an hour of my time every week when nothing was getting accomplished,” Smith said.
The two philanthropic students also felt they could do something for Middlebrook Hall.
“We have programs galore, but nothing providing community service. There was a big gap,” said Zuber, who is a sophomore majoring in international relations and Spanish. “It seems in Middlebrook people are willing to help if you can motivate them.”
So they set about to begin what they believed would be a small community service program.
“We just thought our friends would join,” Zuber said. “We were hoping for 15 people to sign up.”
After the sign-up sheets had been collected, the roommates had an entourage of 65 eager student volunteers.
“It makes me feel like people really do care,” said Smith. “They realize they could be working for those couple of hours, or studying or going out.”
The student experience stems from a quest for diversity. The founders said their organization began with the hope of offering diversity and different opportunities.
“It really changes people when they get to go out and experience diversity,” Zuber said.
KIDS First Program is an organization that’s benefited enormously from Zuber and Smith’s experience. This transitional housing endeavor helps families living in temporary shelters adjust to permanent housing.
“The students allow us to keep the kids program running because we are basically volunteer-run,” said Kristin Livdahl, program director for Simpson Housing Services, which runs KIDS First.
Besides working on projects with the housing services, the student organization regularly volunteers its services to Toys for Tots, People Serving People and other various charities. In addition to this work, they also do special one-time projects.
The experience shows benefits on both sides.
“SAVE really helps me to understand the situation of others who are less fortunate than me,” said Miranda Ellefson, a freshman in the Carlson School of Management and an avid volunteer who works a lot with children.
“They have such an incredible need for love,” she said. “Sometimes all they need is a hug.”