Reading_Buddies1.jpgKENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

Nielson Elementary School second-grader Julian Diaz reads with Lainey Badger of Knox College, left, in a school hallway as Devontae Williams teams up with Knox student Mike Dooley during a "reading buddies" progam at Nielson. The college students are part of Knox's Center for Community Service.

A sense of accomplishment

Volunteerism provides source of learning, outlet for interaction


The Orpheum Theatre

Saturday, October 20, 2007

When Knox College implemented its "New Knox" curriculum in 2002 it also developed six centers to provide students with resources for things like study abroad programs, career and pre-professional programs and advanced study.

A center also was created to help provide students with community service and volunteer opportunities, but it wasn't until 2005 that the Center for Community Service got the funding for a building of its own, 362 S. Academy St., a director and two student workers from a $30,000 grant from the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation.

New Knox was a curriculum review that inaugurated a requirement for experiential learning. Community service is one option to meet that requirement, along with internships and studying abroad.

Though the center only officially opened its doors in January 2006, Kathleen Ridlon, coordinator for the Center for Community Service, said volunteering is nothing new to Knox students.

"Volunteerism at Knox has always been an integral part of the Knox community," Ridlon said, explaining Knox was founded as a labor college, with students working on campus. Now, she said, students work in the community instead. "It's just the center that's new."

The role of the Center for Community Service

Although students were volunteering at community organizations long before January 2006, students and community organizations now know exactly who to call about volunteer opportunities.


Lauriane Wales, left, a Knox College student from France, teams up with second-grader Jada Gaston as the two read in a hallway at Nielson Elementary School Thursday.

"Part of the goal was to centralize (volunteer opportunities) for students to be engaged in doing service for the community," Ridlon said. "We can also create and maintain community partnerships because the center acts as a liaison between the students and community members."

Community agencies can contact Ridlon about events they need help with, and Ridlon can e-mail the Knox community to find volunteers.

"Now community partners have a place they can contact," said Heather Poppy, coordinator for the Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development. "Now we have someone on campus who is dedicated to that."

Students also can initiate service opportunities and use the center's resources for advertising or ideas.

"Students are encouraged to take initiative and take the learning and do something with it," Ridlon said. "Community service is one way of taking something that you've learned and bringing it out into the community."

The center also allows Knox to track students' philanthropy. In its first year, the center managed 36 events, developed relationships with 23 community organizations and had 479 different volunteers report 7,000 hours of community service. There are currently 70 Knox students volunteering in the Galesburg community and the center now has partnerships with nearly 30 community agencies.

Community partners

One of the center's biggest projects after it opened was to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Knox County. Twice a week "bigs" and "littles" meet on Knox's campus for an hour or two of together time. This allows Knox students the opportunity to participate right on campus, and the younger participants a chance to visit the college.

This year 40 Knox students are big brothers or sisters.

Colleen Harden, a Knox sophomore, said the "littles" enjoy coming to the school.

"They love being on campus," Harden said.

And the few hours a week spent participating don't "overtake your life," Harden said, making it easy to squeeze into a busy college schedule.

This year the center also joined a program Nielson Elementary School has been doing for more than a decade called Reading Buddies. Knox provides transportation for the 29 student participants to visit Nielson for at least 30 minutes each week for a term. Knox students are paired with second- or third-graders and help the younger students with their reading skills.

"Our kids love that," said Matt LeClere, principal of Nielson. "The young people coming from Knox are super with our kids. They have a lot of patience and the kids really respond nicely to them."

Mike Dooley, a Knox junior, signed up for the program because he thought it would be fun.

"You get to get little kids to learn to read, plus they think you're really cool," Dooley said. "We all really love doing it."

Getting something back

Many of the students who volunteer are gaining something for themselves while helping others, like work-related experience or a sense of accomplishment.

Jennifer Nefzger, a sophomore, wants to pursue a career in international relations. Her volunteer experiences have helped her develop personal skills that will help.

"(Volunteering) connects me to a lot of people doing a lot of different things," she said. "I have a wider knowledge of the things that are around me. I've also become a much more outgoing person and more dependable."

Colleen Harden, a sophomore psychology major, said being a Big Sister is good practice for her future job as a counselor or clinical psychologist.

"I am a good judge of what people are thinking and feeling," Harden said. "I understand and try to help them feel better. That makes me feel like I can actually do something about it."

Dooley wants to be a Spanish teacher after college, and his experiences with Reading Buddies and the Boys and Girls Club have given him plenty of opportunities to work with kids.

"You really have to work hard with them, they have a lot of energy," he said. "It will help me as a teacher."

When you get positive feedback from volunteering, said Chrissy Morse, a sophomore, "You feel like you're really accomplishing something and making a difference in somebody's life."

And now that Knox has a centralized location for all volunteering opportunities it has never been easier for students to get involved, especially when some options only require 30 minutes a week.

"It's really easy," said Dooley, a Reading Buddy. "It's not that big of a commitment, just 30 minutes a week. A lot of people can do that."


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