For some DePauw students, community service has been a large part of their DePauw education, helping them expand their knowledge and relationships and gain experience all while providing something back to those around them.
Though changed by COVID-19 regulations, a number of community service initiatives are still operating through DePauw.
Senior Lilly Waltman is the coordinator for student volunteers at Asbury Towers. She originally got involved in college community service her first year through a program called “Servicio en las Américas,” which promotes international learning along with its service initiatives. The group spent time focusing on service in Greencastle, Ind. and in Costa Rica.
In her time in Greencastle, Waltman volunteered at Asbury Towers, visiting one of the residents there. In her second semester, she became the “volunteer coordinator,” which she explained means she is responsible for “recruiting, managing, and managing the retention rate of the volunteers.” She has held that position for the past three years.
“It’s been a great experience,” Waltman said, both because of the opportunity to work with people from Asbury Towers and because of the opportunity to work with DePauw’s Hartman Center for Civic Engagement. According to their website, the Hartman Center serves as a “connector” for the DePauw and Greencastle communities and offers students “service events, regular volunteerism, leadership development, course-based projects, and capacity-building internships locally.”
This year, “community engagement has had to adapt,” Waltman said. “A lot of programs aren’t really able to run at all.” She says she and her co-coordinator, sophomore Brandon Collins, have been fortunate to be able to work together and transition volunteer work with Asbury Towers to a “pen-pal system” while it’s not safe for students to visit the residents in-person.
Their program recently received a grant for an iPad and Waltman expressed hope that the students would be able to FaceTime with residents. They’re also looking into starting a “monthly craft day” where student volunteers would be able to send crafts to the residents.
Waltman said her involvement with community service has “helped [her] be more appreciative of the Greencastle community.” She doesn’t think “enough students take advantage of the Hartman Center,” which she believes is a good resource for anyone looking to get involved and branch out of “the DePauw bubble.”
Senior Zosha Roberson got involved in community service through her Bonner Scholarship, which is a four-year scholarship with a focus on community engagement. “The minute I stepped on campus, they helped us get a site where we could serve at 4-10 hours a week, and throughout that process, I’ve served at many different organizations in Greencastle,” Roberson said. The organizations include Round Barn DayCare, Tots Time (no longer running), and Grounded, Co. She has also worked to coordinate student volunteers through the Hartman Center.
Grounded, a nonprofit Christian-affiliated coffee shop, is now open and Roberson said she’s helped with organization and creating sign-up times so the shop can be open safely without becoming overcrowded or needing to “turn students away at the door,” she said. “That’s been one of their big goals, [to] efficiently get people in the space and make it open for everyone, so everyone can feel safe and like it’s their space.”
Grounded is open 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Fridays.
Currently, Roberson is on the executive board for the Bonner Scholar program, which she described as “an indirect form of service.” She also volunteers at Grounded “off and on.” She said, “the most impactful organization I’ve been in is Bonner,” because of the involvement in community service and the opportunities to learn about the community and structural issues. “It’s made me grow,” Roberson added.
Junior Andrea Armas also got involved in community service through the Bonner program. She has worked with organizations such as the Humane Society and Tiger Pals. Although she doesn’t think she would have gotten as involved without being a Bonner scholar, Armas said, “now, it’s something I look forward to. It’s definitely grown my interests and passions.”
Recounting her own experiences, Roberson said, “I’ve met some absolutely wonderful people in the Greencastle community. It’s helped me see how Greencastle views DePauw. I think sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between what Greencastle residents think of DePauw and how we think of them.” According to Roberson, service is “a great way to see where they’re coming from and the needs of the community … so when we go out and live in the community we can be as respectful as possible.” She explained that part of community service is about building relationships with people and being able to learn from them.
Armas said it’s important for new volunteers to “listen to the needs of the community,” instead of making assumptions or “projecting what you think they need.” She said that was her starting perspective as a freshman, too, but cautions against it, describing her own previous assumptions as “small-minded.”
For students interested in service who are not a part of the Bonner program, she suggested reaching out to the Hartman Center. “Every person in there is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Roberson said. “There’s plenty of people there that can answer your questions and direct you in the right way.”
Both Waltman and Roberson noted that time can be an issue for students. Waltman cited it as the top reason she heard for students dropping out of volunteering programs.
Roberson recommended students take steps to get involved without feeling like they have to become completely involved right away, which she believes can intimidate students.
“It’s better to start small and just get involved than to be scared of trying to get over-involved and feel like you have to do it all the time,” Roberson said. “There are lots of ways to do little service,” and she believes that will still “have an impact.”