It’s just after 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 29, and dozens of students and a spattering of staffers dressed in blue T-shirts are excitedly chatting in Tappan Square. More people in blue are seated behind tables along Professor Street busying themselves with papers. Soon they’ll be joined by a throng of students—primarily first-years—eager to venture beyond the college’s boundaries. But this isn’t a social excursion; it’s the annual Orientation community service event, Day of Service.
Sponsored by the Bonner Center of Service and Learning (BCSL), Day of Service is a daylong event (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) that introduces new and returning students to community service opportunities at local nonprofits. Last year’s event drew 439 volunteers who spent the day organizing supplies, harvesting crops, performing landscaping work, and more at 34 community partner sites.
“Day of Service has always been one of my favorite parts of the year,” says 2015 Day of Service coordinator Gabriel Moore ’15. A Bonner scholar alumnus who majored in musical studies and biology and minored in chemistry, Moore worked as a Day of Service site leader for four years. “Day of Service is about doing service but also learning from each other. Even if you’re doing a simple task like raking leaves, the conversations you’re having teach you about Oberlin and the student and community perspectives of Oberlin. There is a lot of bonding. Some people say they’ve met some of their closest friends through Day of Service.”
“I’m grateful we have this opportunity just prior to the start of each academic year to introduce incoming students to the local area through our excellent community partners and wonderful student and staff site leaders,” BCSL Director Beth Blissman says.
According to Blissman, Day of Service attracts more volunteers than any other single BCSL event, but it is just one of many opportunities students have to become involved with the community. To find these opportunities, Moore first suggests creating a profile on serve.oberlin.edu, a website launched in summer 2015 that introduces community partner agencies and lists their needs. He says a “huge wave of profiles” have been created by students since he began utilizing the site for Day of Service registration.
Secondly, if you participated in Day of Service, Moore suggests reaching out to your service site contact. “Keep in contact with your community partner. A lot of them are within walking distance, so you can go back to talk about opportunities,” he says. “Or you can connect using serve.oberlin.edu. Just go to the partner’s profile and send an e-mail saying you worked with them on Day of Service and ask if they need a volunteer.”
Moore’s third suggestion is to ask your peers about service opportunities. “Students know what service opportunities are in Oberlin, especially older students and those regularly involved like tutors or Bonner Scholars. Just having conversations about service, there are probably only two or three degrees of separation between the person you’re talking with and someone who does that kind of work.”
Lastly, he says, contact the BCSL staff. “Talk to staff members. Ask, ‘What should I do?’ Even if you have a skill you feel has no use in the Oberlin community, there probably is a use,” he says. “I was a biology and musical studies double major; conservatory and the sciences are some of the least service-oriented majors at Oberlin. But serving taught me that no matter what your field of study is, there is a need that can be met with it. There are so many ways to take your interests and put them into an action. BCSL staff members know who to connect you with so you can employ your skills.”
On why students should make time to serve the community, Moore says this: “Students come to Oberlin College, they learn all of these great things about power, privilege, and oppression, and they think they know how to fix the world. Well, Oberlin community members are always working to improve the microcosm that is the city of Oberlin. They’ve applied the methods students are learning in books and case studies.”
He continues, “Students really don’t have to enter town at all if they don’t want to. They don’t have to meet or make connections with people. But people in the community love to meet students and teach them what has and hasn’t worked.” And that, he says, is something that can’t be taught in the classroom.
To get in touch with BCSL staff, visit Daub House at 145 W. Lorain St., call 440-775-8055, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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