Truong: At Your Service
Dartmouth needs more short-term, off-campus volunteering opportunities.
A common perception at Dartmouth is that there is a plethora of opportunities for students to volunteer. Students are bombarded with emails inviting them to apply to programs like START, build and repair local homes or buy McDonald’s to help raise funds for a local nonprofit. But short-term or low commitment volunteer events are far and few between.
Dartmouth should have more volunteer opportunities for which students can sign up on an individual basis. While not every student may want to dedicate several hours of every Friday to a single service experience, some may have a few hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon. The chance to sign up for a one-time volunteering opportunity can provide Dartmouth students with the context to understand where they are and the people they are surrounded by relative to the Upper Valley, even if service is not a priority in their lives. And that’s okay. At the very least, volunteering for a few hours can give students a greater appreciation for the privilege of a Dartmouth education and serve as a respite from Dartmouth. Volunteering also enhances experiential learning for a wider range of students and helps instill a culture of service. These occasional volunteering experiences are not resume builders; they are a way to learn, have a good time and gradually build community.
Many opportunities can be found through the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact, which aims to “[prepare] students to be transformative leaders for the common good.” But before the center’s name change at the beginning of this year, it was the Dartmouth Center for Service. The name change demarcates a shift from the idea that only service-related programs were supported to the idea that the center enables a broader range of programming, including Social Impact Practicums and nonprofit career development. However, as the role of the center continues to broaden, it must juggle not only local volunteering opportunities, but also sponsored service internships, SIPs programming and immersion trips, for example.
While all of these programs are valuable, widening the center’s responsibilities allows less time and staff to be devoted to coordinating local volunteering opportunities. As a result, student leaders conduct much of the coordination with community partner organizations, leading to wild variation in the types and commitment levels of volunteering activities. Because individual D-plans mean that students are on and off all the time, contact with community organizations can wax and wane. Hiring an intern to coordinate with organizations could be a way to maintain contact so students can more consistently volunteer.
Some of the most prominent and well-developed service programs on campus are the Youth Education Mentoring programs, overseen by the center, which connect Dartmouth students with youth in nearby areas. Understandably, these programs usually involve a long-term, frequent commitment on the participating student’s behalf in order to foster better relationships with the local school-aged students. Yet not everyone who enjoys volunteering in general is good with children, nor do they necessarily want to dedicate several hours every week to the same type of activity.
At the start of each term, the center’s Community Connections Fair hosts a multitude of ways to get involved in service. However, if one misses the fair or the chance to get on the Listserv for a service opportunity, it becomes difficult to hear about new volunteer events unless it is by word of mouth. If one visits the center’s website to search for volunteer opportunities, there are about two dozen community partners listed via Orgsync. But on the student end, they range from established to inactive, indicated by a lack of events on the feed.
Additionally, students who want to volunteer are often required to jump through a series of applications, approvals and clearances. For example, to use a car for a College-sponsored activity, the student must be driver-approved and possibly van-certified. Some volunteering events require DHMC volunteer certification. Obtaining certifications and going through other logistics, such as transportation, can significantly deter students who want to volunteer only occasionally.
Some may argue that short-term volunteering can be inconsequential for the local community because the lack of consistency fails to give the volunteer a “real feel” for what’s going on and rescinds volunteerism’s notion of purpose. However, there is still much to gain from those experiences. Each experience allows the volunteer to meet local people outside of campus, and allows locals to learn about the student, too. Having a wider range of service opportunities for students can greatly enhance learning at Dartmouth.