Despite the nation's current financial uncertainty, students at the College of William and Mary are still choosing to do some investing, but of a different kind. They are investing their time in service to the community, and they are doing so in increasingly greater numbers.
On Oct. 18, they will again prove that trend by turning out in droves to participate in the annual Make a Difference Day.
"Students are excited to have a chance to be a part of real change in our communities," said Melody Porter, assistant director of the Office of Student Volunteer Services. "They are enthusiastically signing up for Make a Difference Day because they enjoy giving their time to others, and they know that it makes an impact that is measurable."
Approximately 360 William and Mary students are expected to participate in the event, which will have them helping with service projects throughout the Williamsburg area and in Petersburg, Va. The 50 students who will travel to Petersburg for the day will work on beautifying the Route 36 corridor in partnership with the Phoenix Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to "alleviate poverty by building a sustainable partnership between Virginia higher education and the Commonwealth’s most distressed communities," according to its Web site.
"They say that college students are the most narcissistic, but I strongly believe that students at William and Mary don't fit that mold," said Mallory Johnson, a junior who is also a Phoenix Project fellow. "We see something that transcends the individual. We understand the importance of community and work to build it locally, domestically, and internationally. We serve because we care about others and realize that it simultaneously helps us grow to become active, engaged citizens in a global community."
The outstanding turnout of volunteers for Make a Difference Day, is just one example of an overall trend at the College.
"More than ever students are flocking to our office to sign up to volunteer – locally, across the Commonwealth and into the far reaches of countries across the globe," said Drew Stelljes, director of the OSVS. "And they are doing so with a determination to affect real systemic change. They ask inquisitive questions wrapped in an ethic of care."
One of the service programs that have seen an increase in participants is the College Partnership for Kids. The partnership is a tutoring program between students of the College of William and Mary and the Williamsburg-James City and York County public schools. Currently, the partnership has an all-time high of 325 tutors, shattering the previous record of 250.
Additionally, Alpha Phi Omega, the nation's largest service fraternity, has welcomed 141 new members to its William and Mary chapter. After the pledge process, the fraternity will have nearly 400 members, far exceeding the membership of any of the other APO chapters nationwide.
The availability of service trips and special service opportunities is also at an all-time high. For instance, in 2001, only one international and no domestic service trips were available to students. Now, there are 13 service organizations that are going on 16 international service trips and 10 domestic trips. That’s a total of 26 week-long or longer service trips. Additionally, last year, the OSVS started the annual Students Helping Out Williamsburg (SHOW) Day, which saw 200 students – mostly freshmen -- volunteering to help with service projects throughout the area.
Senior Brandie Burris said that the high numbers are a result of the College's culture of service.
"We go to a school were the 'cool kids' are the ones that are involved in service, and I think that’s really amazing," said Burris.
Stelljes said that not only are numbers at an all-time high, but the quality of service is increasing, too.
"While the number of programs is impressive, the quality of the experience is the characteristic that is most noteworthy," he said. "After making connections with members of very distinct populations, students return to campus with a desire to learn about a wide array of social concerns from an even more broad array of disciplines. A business major sees him or herself as a potential social entrepreneur. A sociologist studying culture now has a laboratory."
Though a recent Time magazine article stated that charities and non-profits are expecting the current economic situation to affect their ability to raise money, the organizations that William and Mary students are involved in need not worry about the availability and enthusiasm of the College's student volunteers for some time to come.
Senior Allison Anoll said that service "allows for our education to be about more than just ourselves."
"Through our service we are able to make school a pathway to becoming better citizens," she said.
"Students are volunteering in record numbers in Williamsburg, Petersburg and across the globe," said Stelljes. "In doing so they are working toward finding solutions to a myriad of social problems that we realize will take years, oftentimes decades and more often a lifetime to help solve. But, it is on the Route 36 corridor, in elementary school classrooms and across the world that students are emerging as advocates, their interest in scholarship is blossoming, their passion coming into focus. For William and Mary students, the journey has just begun."