North Texas Daily

Volunteers take part in community service season

Volunteers take part in community service season

Volunteers take part in community service season
November 13
00:07 2014

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

In two weeks, Americans will celebrate yet another Thanksgiving Day, and in a little over a month, the arrival of Christmas.

Deck the halls and stuff the stockings – for with holidays come the season of giving.

Every year around this time, people across the nation open their wallets for charities, contribute garage sale items to community drives and assist in local fundraisers.

With more than 400 student organizations dedicated to one cause or another, UNT is no different. Here, the holiday spirit runs high and the rewards more so.

“They’re not only organizations; they’re also opportunities,” said Amy Simon, director of the Center for Leadership and Service. “In college, students participate in community service to gain specific experience or make a difference as a volunteer.”

From civic engagement courses to volunteer events beyond campus grounds, students and faculty members need only seek the university’s Division of Student Affairs to find an organization that can give them the sense of fulfillment typically felt when one participates in community-building activities.

“Sometimes [students] do it for tradition – a way for them to get connected with others. Sometimes it’s to have an impact locally, by being a mentor or tutor,” Simon said. “It varies on personal motivation.”

Mentor Denton

The goal was simple: attract a mentor for each of the city’s at-risk students. The number? Not so simple.

Launched in the fall of 2013, Mentor Denton sought volunteers for 10,000 young students who were deemed most likely to drop out or fail classes due to socioeconomic circumstances, including living conditions and language barriers. The organization invited more than 1,000 mentors its first year, most of them students at UNT, Texas Woman’s University and North Central Texas College.

“What’s so great about living in this community is that we have about 60,000 college students,” co-founder and city councilman Kevin Roden said. “That is a large, untapped volunteer base, and right when we tapped into it, these students came out in force.”

The program’s success is a result of commitment – that is, one hour a week for the rest of the school year. This year, Mentor Denton has presented volunteers with the option of working alongside nonprofit organization Big Brothers, Big Sisters for year-round mentoring.

“We need the entire community to come together to help out kids who didn’t always have the same privileges that we had,” Roden said. “We’re supposed to step up and give the kid a second, third, sometimes fourth chance to make sure that they’re successful in their possible career.”

UNT SERVES! REAL community

As the staff mentor of UNT SERVES!, Renee LeClaire not only proctors the organization’s meetings, but also provides service opportunities that can turn student members into community leaders.

“It helps them get connected not only to the university, but also to the community at large,” LeClaire said. “We encourage that, and we help facilitate those opportunities to give back.”

UNT SERVES!’s 40 student members, who reside at Kerr Hall during the tenure of their service, work with the Center for Leadership and Service, which partners them with fellow student organizations such as Eaglethon and Adopt-A-Block. Because the organization is a REAL Community, or Residents Engaged in Academic Living, students are required to complete at least four service activities each semester to live at the UNT SERVES! residence wing.

The idea behind the organization is to contribute to Denton’s growth and improvement while forging relationships with other students who share the common goal of building a better community.

“They all have a passionate heart for serving others,” LeClaire said.

The Big Event

At last year’s Big Event, the largest student-run service program at the university, more than 2,000 students gathered to perform a total of 6,600 service hours from planting to painting in eight cities across Denton County, said Tricia Rodriguez, community service coordinator and advisor of the Big Event.

At the end of the day, students return to campus for a celebration of their achievements.

The turnout was a result of the organization’s hard work, which included recruiting students and making sure they build relationships with Denton residents and other nonprofits.

“It’s really about unifying the university to the community and saying, ‘Thank you,’ being supportive and helping build an impact for students,” Rodriguez said.

It will celebrate its sixth year of service on March 28 next semester. The organization will begin recruiting for student volunteers on campus next week.

“It’s just a really big day to be a community and to celebrate what UNT spirit is about,” Rodriguez said.

Featured Image: The 2014-2015 members of UNT SERVES! Photo courtesy of the club.

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