Volunteer experiences enrich student lives, careers

Courtney Lewis

Getting involved in the community inspired an idea in Newell Hill.

Beginning this year, the nonprofit management junior is working to help grade school students find their groove in his music program.

A former “Y” Buddy and current student board member at the University YMCA, Hill is one of approximately 600 University students involved in volunteering programs.

University advisers and involved students say volunteering can enrich a student’s life and career possibilities in a way classes can’t.

Alondra Espejel volunteers as a requirement for her scholarship but said she’d be doing it even if it wasn’t mandatory.

Working as a student adviser with the Community Involvement and Service Learning Center, Espejel said she encourages students to volunteer to grow both personally and professionally.

“You don’t just come to the University to study academics, but also to learn about the world and community around you,” Espejel said.

Both of these centers work to encourage student community involvement through similar means, but students take from them different experiences.

While CISL advances career development through volunteering, YMCA members said they also seek promotion of personal development.

Hill’s three-year participation in the 120-person “Y” Buddy program allowed him to spend his Saturdays with a fourth-grader who enjoys movies and monster-truck rallies.

“I felt like I was doing something that really mattered,” Hill said. “I wasn’t just studying, but I was doing real-world application that I could feel good about.”

He said he has made a lot of friends through the YMCA, which allowed him to create the network possible to initiate Muse – a program which allows students to teach community children music.

A violinist and pianist, Hill said he’s hoping children will enjoy music as well as make a new friend.

“Both the kids and the volunteers can feel a part of something really positive and great,” Hill said. “And when kids have fun, they’ll become more focused.”

Hill’s goal is to eventually put together an orchestral section of the children for community performances.

Janelle Larson, a CISL adviser, said students looking to improve their resumes through real-world experience are under the misconception that it needs to be a paid experience.

“Many jobs today require community involvement, and some college programs also have this stipulation,” Larson said. “We can help students find the opportunities that fit them.”

Even short-term volunteering can help improve a resume because it also creates networks to find other experiences, Larson said.

“It shows a lot of maturity and commitment,” Larson said. “But we have to make sure the student is passionate about what they’re doing, otherwise both parties lose.”

Espejel said her volunteering experiences have left a profound impression on her.

“When I worked with kids, I was one of their role models,” Espejel said. “That was positive reinforcement that proved to me that I was making a difference.”

Hill said he hopes volunteers in Muse will see a positive outcome similar to Espejel’s. He said he thinks reaching kids through the arts will accomplish that.

“We want kids to believe in themselves as we believe in them,” Hill said.