BY THOMAS SACCENTE — STAFF WRITER
Over 85 percent of Centre students volunteer for community service on a regular basis, all of whom are taking time from their busy schedules to help the public in ways both big and small, leaving a truly lasting impression on the community in the process.
However, what sets Centre apart from many other colleges that offer community service programs is that many Centre students use community service as a means of relaxation. There are students who not only take it upon themselves to include more work to their already busy schedules, but view the entire experience as a sort of escape from the pressures that come with being a Centre student. This allows them to effectively redirect their stress in a way that is also beneficial to society as a whole.
This is a development that can be attributed to a wide variety of factors. The most obvious one is that Centre College is an environment that inspires general goodwill in its students, teaching them the necessary lessons to empathize with and assist people in need. According to Director of Community Service and the Bonner Program Dr. Matthew Klooster, Centre has a long history of cultivating students in a way in which they feel obligated to give back to the community, not as something that they are required to do, but just because it is the right thing to do. “I think that it [community service] is part of the Centre culture” Dr. Klooster said. “I think that there’s been a long-term precedence set by previous graduating classes that part of being a Centre student is learning that we all have a social responsibility, a responsibility to our neighbors, and so, I believe as part of our mission of creating global citizens, our students have committed themselves to being proactive and making the world a better place.”
The accessibility to different outlets for service encourages Centre students to get involved. With its strong ties to the city of Danville and surrounding region, Centre offers numerous avenues for students to volunteer with an organization or charity in the local community. One such institution is the Bonner Program, a network consisting of dozens of students all united under the goal of helping the community through active service. The core tenants of the Bonner Program are diversity, social justice, international understanding, spiritual exploration, civic engagement, and community building, and the people in charge of the program expect all of their participants to share these ideals. In addition, the program requires its participants to engage in at least eight hours of community service per week throughout the entire school year, participate in weekly meetings and events, and take part in a series of retreats that occur during the fall and CentreTerm. This is undoubtedly a sizable commitment and one that, on the surface, seems like a big burden.
However, according to junior member of the Bonner Program and Vice President of Service for Alpha Phi Omega Clara Gaddie, the Bonner Program hopes that these principles will help teach Bonner members the value of giving back to the community. This, notes Gaddie, adds a new dimension to the work that allows students to see service less as an inconvenience and more as an opportunity to learn and have fun doing it. “When I was a first year, the upper classmen Bonners told me that service helped them substantially with time management skills,” Gaddie said. “They managed to get all of their school work done in a [timelier] manner, because they knew that they were needed at their service sites. I find that this is true. Additionally, doing community service has provided the opportunity for me to learn so many things (how to clean a cat’s litter box, how to make photo copies, how to build a campfire, how to plant a tree) that I otherwise might not have learned. It has provided leadership opportunities for me, which I am sure will help me in my future career.”
Danville alone is home to numerous institutions that allow students to come in and lend a helping hand. These organizations, which add up to a number between 25 and 30, range greatly in nature and include, but are by no means limited to, Wilderness Trace Child Development Center, the Bluebird Market, the Danville-Boyle County Humane Society, the Heart of the Kentucky United Way, Happy Paws, and Centre College’s very own Afterschool Program. The last of these is especially desirable because it is dedicated to helping children of all ages who are learning English as a second language get ahead in their studies. In the case of children about to graduate high school, this also means teaching them the skills they need to succeed in college.
According to Community Service Coordinator Mark Addison, the vast number of volunteer sites in Danville can help Centre students attain a better connection to the community as a whole, which is something that one might not easily find in the classroom. “While you’re there [volunteering], I think you feel a sense of belonging. You feel a sense of usefulness, and that, in a way, I think has an impact on how students relieve their stress … Them being in a community, feeling that sense of belonging, feeling that sense of usefulness allows them to relax and come to understand that there are other things that they could be doing and paying attention to and I think that allows them to put things in perspective.”
There are also many charity organizations outside of town that could use the help of Centre students to carry out their operations, so students are bound to find a cause that suits their tastes. To just name a few, these include the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center in Lexington, Kentucky, Refugee Ministries in Lexington and Louisville, Sunrise Child Services, as well as various locations in Mercer County and Harrodsburg with which many students have volunteered. Students can also volunteer at the out of state branches of the organizations that they worked for in Danville and even become interns at some of these places during the summer, thereby adding even more possibilities to the ways in which they can benefit society.
A little bit of work can go a long way in today’s world, and the rewards that can be reaped from that work can yield infinite possibilities to the people who decide to undertake it.