Eastern and the surrounding area has plenty of volunteering opportunities, and April, being National Volunteer Month, is the month to give back to the community.
Nationaldaycalendar.com says “April became National Volunteer Month as part of President George H. W. Bush’s 1000 Points of Light campaign in 1991.”
The website invites people to honor the month by thanking volunteers or volunteering yourself.
Coles County has many opportunities, including but not limited to the Charleston Food Pantry or the Douglas-Hart Foundation in Mattoon.
Edgar Romero, a senior history major, said he made some of his favorite volunteering memories at the Newman Catholic Center food pantry.
“My favorite volunteering memories will be at the food pantry at the Newman Center and talking to the different students that come by,” Romero said. “Any volunteer work that lets me be myself and lets me talk with different will always be fun.”
The fun Romero had at the food pantry made him want to go back and do it again, he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people and whenever I saw an opportunity to volunteer I took it,” Romero said. “After the first time I volunteered at the food pantry, it was a lot of fun and it made me want to come back.”
Beth Gillespie, Eastern’s Director of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, is responsible for organizing many of the university’s volunteer opportunities.
“I am the Director of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism so my entire job is about finding ways that students can get involved both on and off campus, including over 400 volunteer opportunities a year,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said the importance of volunteering is something everyone should recognize regardless of wealth or availability.
“Volunteering shows people that no matter how much time you have to give, or how much money you have in the bank, you have the ability to use your time and energy to make someone else’s life a bit brighter and better,” Gillespie said. “And that is an opportunity we all have the responsibility to recognize.”
Romero said that finding a cause one values by checking bulletin boards around campus is one way to start volunteering. He also noted that if transportation is an issue, it can be provided by Newman.
“My advice for students who want to volunteer is to look for a cause or place they would feel that fits what they like. The easiest way to find volunteer work is by looking at the bulletin boards in the residence halls or going to the Newman Center since they always provide different volunteer opportunities,” Romero said. “They would also provide transportation for people that don’t have cars.”
Although there are a lot of opportunities on campus, transportation is also usually available for the university’s off-campus volunteer events, Gillespie said.
“If a student doesn’t have a car, it won’t stop them from giving back. We have tons of volunteer opportunities happening on campus, like Pop Up Service and Panther Service Day. If the opportunity is off campus- we provide transportation to over 90% of those to help keep it easy,” Gillespie said. “It will say in the description of the event on our website if transportation is provided or not.”
Gillespie also said that while life as a college student can present obstacles that get in the way of volunteering, she knows that everyone can find time to volunteer in order to make someone else’s day better.
“Also most of our volunteer events are just two hours long. And the reason for that is we know our students are busy. They are juggling classes, work, friends, Student Organizations and Greek Life obligations and time relaxing with friends. But we also know that every single person is able to find two hours a month to give back and do good for someone in our community,” Gillespie said. “We aren’t asking anyone to give up their weekend or an entire day, we just want a small amount of time to make someone else’s day a little brighter.”
The Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism offers multiple volunteer opportunities this April, including the Big Blue Classic on April 10 and Panther Service Day on April 17. Gillespie said that those interested can register to join by clicking “volunteer opportunities” at www.eiu.edu/volunteer.
Ryan Meyer can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]