Course/Project: FYS 100 – Volunteerism: A Lifelong Vocation of Promoting Social Justice
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
What are the benefits of volunteering?
This was the central question that inspired Education professor Dr. Leah McCoy to design her first-year seminar course, “Volunteerism: A Lifelong Vocation of Promoting Social Justice”. McCoy wanted to unpack the many layers of volunteerism and public service with a class of Wake Forest freshmen in order to inspire her students to not only think deeply about problems in the community, but also to motivate them to solve these problems through action.
McCoy’s students completed two general components for the course, a traditional in-class component and an out-of-class service learning component. For classes each week, students completed assigned readings, discussed different theories and needs for service, and wrote several papers and reflections connecting the lessons from class to their out-of-class experiences. The service learning component of the course required students to volunteer with one of five local agencies for a few hours each week during the semester.
“A lot of the students already had a good bit of volunteer experience before taking the course, but I felt this course was a great way to get everyone thinking critically about the reasons behind volunteering,” McCoy explained. “My hope is that the class helped students become more engaged in their approach to and choice of volunteer activities, which in turn gives them the motivation to stay involved in their communities beyond their time at Wake Forest.”
Working with local agencies gave the first-year students an opportunity to synthesize the lessons learned from class in the context of performing actual and much needed service in the community. Perhaps not surprisingly, McCoy’s students enjoyed having the opportunity to get hands-on experience outside the classroom, but the volunteer portion of the course also left a deep impression on many of them for more substantial reasons.
“Volunteering at Ashley Elementary School has opened my eyes to some of the problems in our communities, such as poverty and domestic violence,” one student expressed. “It is such a rewarding feeling to know that you were able to help someone other than yourself. I am extremely grateful to Dr. McCoy and to all my classmates for giving me a truly eye-opening experience, an experience that has changed me for the better, and one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. ”
Students had a wide range of responsibilities depending on the organization each student chose to volunteer with. In addition to Ashley Elementary School, several members of McCoy’s class volunteered at El Buen Pastor, an after-school program for Hispanic children. Here they offered homework help and played games several afternoons each week.
Others volunteered with Crisis Control Ministry, a locally based organization with the mission of assisting members of the community who experience financial crises that interrupt the fulfillment of basic life needs like housing, utilities, food, and prescription medications.
Crisis Control provides a variety of services to help stabilize the lives of its clients in order to help them regain self-sufficiency. The students who volunteered with Crisis Control performed data entry and analysis in order to help the organization better assess its programs. McCoy’s students also spent considerable time receiving and processing donations of goods.
Other students volunteered with WFU’s Campus Kitchen, which is a “food recycling program” that uses cooked but never served food from the undergraduate campus dining hall to make healthy and nutritious meals for the needy. McCoy’s Campus Kitchen volunteers prepared and delivered hundreds of meals over the course of the semester.
No matter which agency the students volunteered with, however, the experience as a whole helped spark a spirit of reciprocity in several of McCoy’s freshmen.
One student described this spirit of reciprocity succinctly, explaining that “volunteering has helped me to not only find what my passions are but it has also given me an opportunity to put those enthusiasms to good use,” she said. “I loved being able to help students learn new material or help them with existing material that they struggled with. At the same time, I think the volunteer’s life is improved just as much as the one in need.”