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Helping our students understand they have the power, and the responsibility to impact our community.

Civic Engagement LEAD Initiative
November 8, 2018 Beth Gillespie Eastern Illinois University

Each December over 150 local organizations come together from across 7 counties here in our region of East Central Illinois to help serve over 1,000 local families to make One Stop Community Christmas a reality. The intent of One Stop Community Christmas is to make December a brighter and easier month for the entire household, not just focusing on ensuring the kids have gifts for the holiday season. We know that if families are struggling and already making hard choices as in paying rent versus grocery shopping, that the holidays can bring additional stress both emotionally and financially.  Eight years ago, leadership from community specific Christmas programs got together and asked the question- “Could we be doing more for families if we did something together?” And One Stop Community Christmas was the answer.

The families who qualify for One Stop Community Christmas are given gifts and stocking stuffers for the children who are 18 and younger in their home. But they also get pajama’s for the kids, cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper towels and toilet paper (as you cannot use food stamps to purchase these items), diapers, books, games, a fleece blanket and food for a holiday meal for the entire household.

At the start of each academic year, all incoming students participate in a service project of their choice. Last year we had 18 different projects available spanning from working in a community garden, to helping local residents learn about social media, to playing bingo with seniors at local nursing homes, and a student favorite, making fleece blankets for One Stop Community Christmas. We typically have 350 students who choose this project each August. At the start of our time together, the Director of One Stop comes and presents to our students so they are able to understand the impact and value of their time and contribution.

Last year in December we were setting up for One Stop on Friday night, and had some athletic teams from campus helping us. In the midst of unloading multiple semi-trucks of items, including the over 1,300 fleece blankets, one of the students stopped me. He looked around and then locked eyes and said “Wait a minute. Are these the fleece blankets that I helped make in August?” I told him indeed they were. His smile grew so wide and he responded saying “That is so cool that tomorrow someone’s day will be better because of what I did 3 months ago.”

Helping our students understand that it is their responsibility to pay attention to the community they are in, and that making a positive impact is at the heart of the intent of all of the programming that our office coordinates. We strive to help our students understand the impact of their time and energy so they understand the value of volunteering. That one minute interaction with that student last December helped fill me with hope that we are being successful in this endeavor.