Volunteers gain recognition for improving quality of life

by John Carter

Busy class and work schedules make free time for college students a precious commodity. And while many students spend this time focused on their own interests, others donate their free time as volunteers.
To celebrate the hard work of these students, as well as all volunteers in Minnesota, Gov. Jesse Ventura has proclaimed this week “Minnesota Volunteer Recognition Week.”
“More than two million Minnesotans serve their communities through volunteerism every day in every way,” Ventura said in a press release. “Volunteers make the quality of life in our state among the highest in the nation.”
According to a recent survey conducted by the University Research Center and the Minnesota Office of Citizenship and Volunteer Services, 67 percent of Minnesotans volunteer their time, and volunteers serve an average of 3.8 hours a week.
Nationally, an estimated 93 million Americans over the age of 18 volunteer, according to the 1996 Giving and Volunteering in the United States survey.
And many volunteers can be found right here on campus. One of the University’s largest volunteer organizations is Coffman Union’s Program Council. Comprised of 12 committees and 150 student volunteers, the council plans events around campus in order to bring students together.
Michael Holland, president of the council and a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, said whatever amount of time students can give helps.
The program council plans more than 450 events each year. Volunteers plan major concerts such as Liz Phair, discussions, movies, recreational trips and the College Bowl, Holland said.
Heather Kazmerzak, a College of Liberal Arts senior and the council’s recreation chairwoman, said the events in and around Coffman Union make the campus feel a lot smaller.
“They give the campus a greater sense of community,” she said.
University students can volunteer outside the campus as well. The Office for Special Learning Opportunities develops partnerships with communities around the Twin Cities though Community Involvement Programs.
“There is always something you get back from working in the community,” said Rebecca Nathan, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts who works as a student coordinator for CIP.
Laurel Hirt, the interim coordinator for CIP, said it is more than just volunteering, it is “community-based learning.” Students involved with Community Involvement Programs do a variety of activities such as mentoring and tutoring children, as well as working in health clinics.
Hirt said that both the students and the communities benefit from a semester long commitment made by the student. The communities receive a dedicated student, while the student gains experience by interacting with a wide variety of people in many different societies.
A commitment is necessary because “change doesn’t happen overnight,” Hirt said.
Karen Leach, the volunteer program specialist for the Minnesota Office of Citizenship and Volunteer Services, said volunteering benefits the community “tremendously.” Because of volunteers “organizations can provide increased services,” she said.
“Even though volunteering has increased, there is always a greater need,” Leach said. “Every little bit helps. If everyone did one thing during the year, it would make a major difference.”