Texas Wesleyan’s food pantry, which started as a budgetless volunteer project, has exploded this semester.
“This semester has been absolutely phenomenal in terms of volunteering, so much so that we have managed to open the food pantry five days a week for a good portion of the day,” Dr. Alison Simons said. “Freshmen this semester have been absolutely awesome and so willing and able to contribute however they can.”
With expanded hours and more volunteers, Simons, an assistant professor of sociology is thankful for Polytechnic United Methodist Church member Eddie Castlow’s help and couldn’t be more excited to see her project take off.
Simons and two members of Wesleyan’s staff say that Wesleyan’s volunteering may be flourishing in some areas, but there are places it could improve. Staff is working to both strengthen current opportunities and to create new ones.
“I’ve just been trying to finesse what (volunteer opportunities) we have been doing,” said Barbara Barnhart, assistant director of student engagement. “I think it’s not making more, but making the experiences that we have better. Allowing students to reach out for their passions is very important to me.”
Currently the opportunities that students do regularly with student affairs are the Trinity Trash Bash in the fall, alternative spring break, graduation hooding and robing, and a women’s leadership symposium. However, there are other volunteer opportunities out there.
“Throughout the years we have had different organizations throughout the community and region that ask for volunteers,” Barhart said. “We don’t see the same ones very regularly, but I’ve gotten asked for volunteers for Cycle Fort Worth, the Trinity Turkey Trot, the Fort Worth Parade, children’s hospitals, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth. It’s kind of just a sprinkle all over the community. Anytime you’re interested in any kind of community service, like I have about twenty people that are really interested in Hurricane Harvey right now, you just approach me, and I find the person to connect you with.”
Barnhart helps students get involved with volunteering passions by connecting them to the right people or helping to create an opportunity for them.
“I take it (volunteering requests) both ways (with some people having ideas and some not),” Barnhart said. “I had a student that was super, super passionate about going to New Orleans last year, and assisting with clean-up of New Orleans that is still happening from Katrina years later. With that, we talked about how to construct alternative spring break to assist with that particular inspiration. But I’ve also had students that are like, ‘I’m really excited about Habitat for Humanity,’ and I’m like, ‘Great. We have a local chapter, so let me connect you with them.’”
Some sponsors on campus, like Simons, are fine with students just going up to her and asking to volunteer.
“(If students want to volunteer), they just come and ask,” Simons said, “and tell me how they want to volunteer.”
Another new volunteering opportunity on campus is the multicultural committees. There is one each month focusing on different themes like Hispanic Heritage, LGBTQ Awareness, Women’s History Month, Disabled Awareness, and so on.
“The committee decides on how people are going to celebrate, how we’re going to bring awareness to the campus, and what outside organizations that we currently have partnerships with or that we can partner with (to make those ideas happen),” said Christi Tallent, human resource coordinator.
Tallent said volunteering is important to everyone, because it gives people the opportunity to serve others by using their gifts as well as having a purpose in their lives.
“I think that when we give back we have more joy in life, life is more fulfilling, because there really isn’t anything better than helping someone else that can’t do something themselves,” Tallent said. “I think (volunteering) it will empower students individually, and make them more confident and ultimately happier. When you serve others you’re more joyful in general and it just makes you a happier person. There’s nothing negative about it, and it will also bring student organizations closer together too, because they’ll be working hand and hand.”
Since Tallent is so passionate about volunteering, she would to see it improve at Texas Wesleyan by centralizing the opportunities for volunteering and increasing local opportunies.
“I think we do an OK job, but I think we could really improve,” Tallent said. “I think that’s only going to happen through people coming together, talking about it, and bringing ideas together. There are organizations around our campus and just down the street that could use our help and could partner with us on certain things. On a scale of one through ten, I’d say we’re a four, but I’d like to see us at a ten.”
Barnhart also agrees that she’d like to see some more local volunteering.
“I think that’s really hard (to say an area where I wish we had more volunteers) actually, because I’m the type of person that thinks that you should play to your passion,” Barnhart said. “I wish that we did more community outreach though. That’s more of the things that I wish we participated in, so doing more local experiences that really effect the Poly-community area, because we are so connected in that particular experience. We are a part of this community that we don’t really intentionally interact with it every day, so I wish that there was more of that.”
Simons also believes in giving back to the community.
“Community is important and everybody is a part of the community,” Simons said. “Giving back to the community not only makes you feel good, but helps other people out who are less fortunate. I think it’s important for college students to learn about the community, and to learn by giving back.”
One way Tallent hopes to improve local volunteering is by developing a new sub-committee through the Blue Zones initiative that would be called something like Texas Wesleyan University’s Purpose and Action committee.
“(We need to) bring people together, a committee, people who are real passionate about serving others, identify the current volunteer initiatives that are already here and organized and any partnerships we have with organizations that would need our help,” Tallent said, “and then just make a plan, an annual plan.”
Tallent plans to start formalizing plans for a kick-off for this committee now that the multicultural committee kick-off is done, so that students can start getting involved in these service opportunities, too.
“We did our multicultural kick-off, so now it’s a good opportunity to start focusing on that,” Tallent said. “We just want to be very strategic with everything that we do. It’s so good to be excited and passionate about stuff, but you want to make sure you’re planning it correctly and you’re thinking about the big picture before you just roll with it.”
With more organization, Tallent hopes to increase the desire for students to participate in successful annual service opportunities in the local community. However, students do have an area of volunteering they’re really strong at on campus.
“I think students are a lot more excited about hands-on projects in regards to like building things or assisting with relief,” Barnhart said. “I’ve gotten a lot (of requests) with the Hurricane Harvey thing, clean-up for Katrina, and Habitat for Humanity. I’ve had a lot more assistance in relief and aid (than in the local area).”
However, no matter where and how students choose to volunteer, Barnhart, Tallent and Simons agree on the importance of doing some kind of volunteering during college.
“When we talk about the institutional mission in regards to building better members of society, I think volunteerism and service really help round people out in regards to humbling them,” Barnhart said. “Reaching out to people with aid and seeing the world in a more global perspective versus a more internal perspective, I think it helps you see things outside of your own perception, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it. I think it really just helps us be better humans.