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NIU Voices: Student volunteers help improve community

Jen Van Ewyk
Jen Van Ewyk

Anyone who lives in DeKalb knows that the signs of fall begin long before the leaves start to turn. The grocery stores get busier, driving on the northwest side of town gets more challenging and the music coming from local restaurants gets a bit louder.

Of course, those things actually have more to do with the return of students to Northern Illinois University than the arrival of autumn. The other sign of that arrival (if you’re part of any school, volunteer group or charitable organization in town) is that the return of students also represents an influx of volunteers who put in thousands of hours of service to the local community.

For many NIU students volunteering is something they have done their entire lives. It’s just part of their identity.

So when they get on campus they look for volunteer opportunities to help them connect with the community. It makes DeKalb feel more like home.

The office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development helps hundreds of students find those opportunities. Last year, we helped students put in more than 1,500 hours of volunteer service. They served the homeless through Hope Haven, assisted victims of domestic violence at Safe Passage and cared for animals at the Tails animal shelter. You might have seen them working at events such as Corn Fest or Pumpkin Fest, helping to tend and harvest crops with DeKalb County Community Gardens or working at school fun fairs or local museums.

To create those (and dozens of other) connections, our office acts as a conduit between students and local organizations. One way we do so is through our Volunteer Fair (Sunday, Aug. 26 this year), where organizations can tell more than a thousand students about the opportunities that they have available.

Organizations also can post about their upcoming events and volunteer needs on our online volunteerism calendar. We also are happy to work directly with organizations in need of large teams of volunteers, introducing them to fraternities, sororities and other NIU student groups that are always in search of service hours. To take advantage of any of these opportunities, contact us via email at communityservice@niu.edu.

Of course, SILD is just one avenue through which NIU students find volunteer opportunities. For instance, the Huskie Service Scholars Program connects 23 students a year with organizations where they each put in a minimum of 150 hours of service. The NIU Service Leaders places NIU students in area schools where they teach civics and civic participation, as well as tutoring in reading and literacy. Furthermore, every college on campus offers classes in which service learning is a component, allowing students to gain real-world experience related to their majors, while helping our local community.

So, if you find yourself frustrated by the traffic around campus later this month, just remind yourself of the many ways that NIU student volunteers help improve our community. Better yet, if you are part of an organization that needs some manpower, give us a call and we’ll see if we can’t arrange some helping hands.

• Jen Van Ewyk is the assistant director for volunteerism in NIU’s office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development.

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