Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
Editor’s note: Since we are part of the Associated Students, the staff of The AS Review took part in the AS Day of Service, which is a subject of this story.
When Beth Parker was in college at Oregon State University, she did volunteer work, but never as part of a service-learning project — not even once.
“I never really thought of it as something as part of my college experience, because I was focusing really heavy on academics,” she said.
For anyone who knows Parker, this may come as a bit surprise since she currently works as the VISTA project coordinator at Western’s Center for Service-Learning.
The center is an on-campus resource for students looking for short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities in Whatcom County. It provides monthly events off campus, and it also helps connect volunteers to events put on by community organizations. Parker said the center’s staff works as advisers to help assist students match their interests or major to organizations through an online database developed by the Whatcom Volunteer Center.
Parker said the center was originally designed to help professors who offer service-learning projects in their classes, but it has since expanded into a volunteer headquarters.
On Thursday afternoons, a representative from the Whatcom Volunteer Center works inside the office advising students as part of a new partnership started just this year, Parker said.
Parker said that assisting students who are volunteering in their communities is one rewarding part of her job. While she was at Oregon State, the university had no service-learning program.
After graduating with a degree in English, Parker joined the Peace Corps and traveled to West Africa where she taught English and ran an after-school mentor program for girls. Years later, she is now helping facilitate an on-campus resource center that she never had in college.
“I feel like Western is so incredible in that respect because students, even if they don’t necessarily come to this office, get involved,” Parker said. “Western is really great at placing an emphasis on community involvement and presenting lots and lots of avenues for students to get involved in.”
On April 9, over 100 Associated Student employees took part in the first ever AS Day of Service, a Saturday morning event devoted to building community awareness and team-building through volunteering for local organizations.
Staff members volunteered at several organizations, such as the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, Bellingham Boys and Girls Club, Franklin Park and Maritime Heritage Park. Many of those organizations have been connected to Western in the past through the Center for Service-Learning.
One in particular is Brigid Collins.
Sitting on the corner of Holly and North Garden streets, the lavender-colored building is the headquarters to a private, nonprofit organization that works to break the cycle of child abuse. The organization serves as a safe space for individual child consultations, intensive parent coaching and support groups.
Event Coordinator Dana Browne has worked at Brigid Collins for over five years and grew up in the Bellingham area. She said she has a personal tie in giving back to her hometown, but she finds it even more rewarding to see college students connect with their community.
“I’m thrilled to see our younger generation really taking an interest in their community,” Browne said. “A lot of them don’t even live here and will not after they graduate, but they are taking an interest in giving back and that just warms my heart.”
Browne said she is regularly contacted by people interested in volunteering, many of whom are Western students working through the Center for Service-Learning.
Freshman Nicole Anschell was part of the AS group who worked at Brigid Collins. Anschell, who works in the AS Reycling Center, said she was surprised at how much she really got out of the volunteering experience.
“Initially I thought it was kind of unfortunate that I had to get up so early on a Saturday, but it sounded like a productive way to spend the morning,” she said. “It was really cool seeing all of what the center does and how many children they meet with any given month. I was glad I got to help out even if it was as little as stuffing envelopes.”
Anschell and a dozen or so other students worked for four hours stuffing envelopes for hundreds of Brigid Collin’s donors. Browne said while the work may not have been overly strenuous, it was work that directly contributes to their overall mission.
“Just hearing the stories and knowing that we are changing the lives of helping these families, it’s very rewarding,” she said. “But we are built off of fundraisers; it takes money to do things. So even just those mailings we did on Saturday, those are helping families.”
Locations for more volunteer information:
Center for Service-Learning, Wilson Library 481
Student Employment Center, Old Main 285
Whatcom Volunteer Center, 725 N. State St.