STUDENTS OFFERING SERVICE VOLUNTEERS CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY
Syracuse University students looking for an alternative to the standard social scene find it in Students Offering Service (SOS). The volunteer organization, headquartered in Hendricks Chapel, provides many opportunities to help those in need.
SOS began in fall 1989 when Hendricks Chapel Dean Richard Phillips recognized the need for a greater level of altruism on campus, and invited students to create a culture of volunteerism. Nearly a decade later, more than 1,000 students and Central New York residents volunteer time through SOS an array of projects. They tutor refugee students in Onondaga County through the International Children's Project, sew crib quilts for seriously ill children at The Ronald McDonald House of Central New York and The Hale House in New York City, beautify neighborhoods through community cleanups, blanket the impoverished through Share the Warmth, build houses for working-class families through Habitat for Humanity, coordinate CROP Walk activities, and help out at local community centers.
Students Offering Service volunteers gather at a playhouse they built and auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting Habitat for Humanity.
Program director Francis McMillan Parks creates a channel for students to participate in activities tailored to their time constraints and interests. "We recognize that what appeals to some students may not appeal to others," she says. "We like to think that, depending on their inclination, students can choose from an extensive range of volunteer opportunities. The process is delightfully simple."
At the start of every fall and spring semester, Parks organizes a "volunteer summit," inviting about 30 people from various social organizations to talk with students about volunteer opportunities. Following the summit, interested students fill out forms choosing the groups to which they would like to donate their time. Students are then put in touch with the selected agency and receive training in appropriate skills.|
Kim Wilcox '97, G'98, last winter's Share the Warmth chair, attests to the unique activities Parks leads. "She brings people together from all walks of life and pulls service projects together," Wilcox says. "When anyone says they'd like to do something, Francis finds a way to make it happen."
Share the Warmth began with the simple desire to donate a few blankets to Syracuse's homeless people. The project eventually collected more than 100 blankets and raised $1,000 from the Alibrandi Catholic Center, Alpha Chi Omega sorority, the Circle K Corp., and Delta Delta Delta sorority to buy blankets from Church World Service, a relief organization. The blankets were distributed to Vera House, a shelter for battered women; The Living Room, a sanctuary for people with AIDS; and other area facilities. The project's success prompted Le Moyne College and Onondaga Community College to join SU in Share the Warmth. St. Lawrence University, Colgate University, and the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Morrisville are considering creating similar programs.
"Everyone has worked so well together and been completely committed to and passionate about this project," Wilcox says. "It's the best feeling in the world."
Senior Amy Hitchcoff has a similar feeling of satisfaction from her work with Habitat for Humanity. Hitchcoff spent her last three spring breaks building houses in Florida, Kansas, and Mississippi. Volunteers raise funds for the trips through bake sales, benefit concerts, plant sales, and raffles, bringing the cost down to a mere $120 a student. "Experiences attained through Habitat are infinite," she says. "It's completely humbling to help people you don't even know. The whole spirit passes from one person to another. You don't have to give anything, but you end up giving everything."
More schools are expected to take a close look at the way SOS seeks to empower the University and the Syracuse community, Parks says. Students Offering Service is expected to grow as students become increasingly interested in volunteering. "We learn so much when we continually cross the boundaries that separate us politically and economically from our townsfolk," Parks says.