College 101: How to start volunteering

Hannah Shillo, Associate News Editor

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Students looking to give their free time to the community can go to the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, located on the third floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union, for volunteering opportunities. 

Beth Gillespie, director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, said there are plenty of ways students can get involved and give back to the Charleston community, starting by visiting the website at www.eiu.edu/volunteer and clicking on the “Ways to Volunteer” tab. 

The Positive Learning for Active Youth program is an after-school program where Eastern students travel to local areas and mentor children, help them with homework and overall be a role model to them, Gillespie said.

“We partner with some of the education program,” she said, “so those students are interested in it because they want to gain more experience with kids and managing a classroom.” 

Gillespie asked that students who are interested in volunteering in the PLAY program make the necessary commitments. 

“We have programs happening Monday through Friday,” she said. “We’re not saying you have to be available five days a week, but if it’s Monday afternoons from 3 (p.m.) to 5 (p.m.), we just ask that you commit to that for the semester because we want our students to build relationships with kids, and the way to do that is by being there consistently.” 

For students who cannot make the semester-long commitment but still want to volunteer have options as well, said Crystal Brown, assistant director in the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism.

Brown said there are one-time commitment opportunities, such as volunteering locally at the animal shelter, community gardens, nursing homes and food pantries. 

Students are encouraged to check out the list of opportunities online frequently, as Brown said there could be different opportunities each week. 

In order to keep the opportunity to volunteer at community gardens, Brown said they pay attention to how often people sign up and work around that. 

Gillespie said it is important for volunteers to be able to choose an event they would be interested in, especially for students who have to volunteer as a class requirement or as a consequence of getting into trouble, so the office tries to turn it into a positive experience for each student. 

“If people are being forced into it, they may feel like it’s not a positive experience,” she said. “That’s where it’s our job to make sure that the experience, once they get to us, is positive.” 

Brown said it is important to the office that those students also find a meaning behind volunteering because it can be fulfilling. 

“They may have to volunteer, but then they still may get something out of it,” Brown said. “A lot of times those students then come back to us and say, ‘I love that; how can I keep doing that?’” 

Hannah Shillo can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].