A recent national study found the number of American college students who participate in volunteer activities has increased nearly 20 percent since 2002 – exciting news for a community service coordinator.”Student interest in volunteering here at TCU definitely seems higher,” said Peter Thompson, program coordinator for Community Involvement and Service Learning. “Especially after last fall, when Hurricane Katrina put such a spotlight on volunteering – it was easier to see the need for it.”
The study, conducted by the Corporation for National Community Service, found the number of college volunteers increased from 2.7 million in 2002 to 3.3 million in 2005. The corporation is a government agency whose mission “is to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering,” according to its Web site.
Although TCU does not keep a record of how many students volunteer each year, Thompson said he has seen a growing interest in volunteering on campus, especially at TCU’s community service day, Leaps.
“This year TCU Leaps had 760 volunteers serving at over 29 agencies,” Thompson said. “And from my knowledge, that’s the largest TCU Leaps we’ve ever had.”
As part of his job, Thompson works with student volunteer programs and on-campus organizations and individual students who want to get involved in community service.
Forrest Lane, FrogHouse adviser and graduate assistant with the transitions program, said FrogHouse has raised nearly $24,500 of the required $53,000 so far this semester because of the efforts of its student volunteers. They have until Dec. 1 to raise the remainder.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll reach our goal,” said FrogHouse executive director Alison Raff. “I feel like if I’m not optimistic, we’ll never meet it. I’m not sure we will, but I’m trying to be optimistic.”
Several other studies have also found an upswing in the number of college volunteers. Applications to Teach for America, which recruits graduates for teaching in urban areas, hit almost 19,000 this year, which is three times as many as in 2000.
The Peace Corps took 7,810 volunteers in 2005 – the largest number in 30 years – which is up more than 20 percent from 2000.
AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, which pairs recruits with nonprofit organizations, has had a 50 percent jump in applicants since 2004, according to an Oct. 24 USA Today article.
Thompson said he thinks it is extremely important for college students to dedicate time to volunteering.
“It’s almost inherently what we should be doing,” Thompson said. “Students will be in the community whether they like it or not. In order to use the resources in the community though, it’s important for us to give back to the community.”
Community service isn’t just something that looks good on a resume, either, Thompson said.
“It’s a good chance for students to learn about themselves, to challenge themselves, to figure out what career path they might want to go into,” Thompson said.
Raff, a junior movement science major, said volunteering not only helps give students a sense of community, but it can also be a chance to have fun.
“It’s a better way to spend your free time because you’re doing something you like and you’re having fun,” Raff said, “but you’re not really spending any money on it, and you’re helping others.”
According to the CNCS study, volunteer rates are highest among students who work between 1 to 15 hours a week.
Raff said saving time to help others is always worth it.
“It’s really hard to balance school, FrogHouse and all my studying,” Raff said. “You kind of have to give up some of your leisure time, but in the end, it’s more beneficial for you and everyone involved.”
Thompson said his department is working on making community service experiences equally rewarding for all students involved. This includes his department working with the agencies students are serving with to ensure students are prepared for what is expected of them. He said his department also conducts review sessions with students once their services are completed.
“Right now our goal is for every student to leave TCU their senior year knowing that they volunteered at least once,” Thompson said.