Civic Engagement and Volunteerism

Beth Gillespie, Director Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, Eastern Illinois University

January 11, 2018

In the world of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, we strive to help college students understand the value and impact of getting involved and giving back. It is particularly easy to do this, for instance, when you are participating in a service project at a food pantry and you are physically handing food to someone in our community. Every student walks away from that experience knowing to their core that they made someone else’s life a little bit easier. However, helping students understand the big picture impact for indirect service projects can be a bit more challenging.

As part of the welcome to campus activities at Eastern Illinois University each fall, all incoming students participate in JumpStart 2 Give. JumpStart is a 3-hour service project where we send students out in groups of at least 40 to participate in projects in our community at large. We send students to locations that could be a resource to them while they are on campus and call this community home. We send them to help clean up the trails around our lake so they learn about this amazing community resource less than 2 miles from campus. We send them to local food pantries so they know of the places to go if they need help putting food on their own tables. One of our most popular activities is making fleece blankets for local children for a program called One Stop Community Christmas.

One Stop Community Christmas is a 7-country-wide collaboration of over 100 local businesses and organizations that strive to make December an easier month for the entire family. Families receive cleaning supplies, food for a holiday meal, toiletries, and diapers. Individuals who are 18 and under receive gifts, socks, underwear, books, games, and a fleece blanket. This past December One Stop Community Christmas served over 1,000 local families with over 2,400 children. This community wide event takes over 700 volunteers over a 36-hour time frame to set up, to serve the families and to clean-up after the event While we tell our students all about One Stop Community Christmas in August, not all of them are able to volunteer during the actual event in December.

During set up one year, one of our athletic teams was on site to help. As we sorted the blankets to prepare for the event, one of the athletes stopped me and said “are these the blankets we made back in August?” My heart soared as I watched the pieces fall into place. It was amazing to have this student see the big picture, the impact and value of his time in August, and how it was going to make days a bit brighter for local families in December. That one moment is exactly the purpose of an office like ours - helping every student understand that they have the power to make the world a brighter and better place.

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