According to Dan Nadler, the impressive record of student volunteerism at Eastern Illinois University all boils down to one thing.
"We have good-hearted students at the university who want to make a difference," he said. "Many of the students we bring to this institution already have a history of giving to others. They've already been engaged within their own communities and to volunteerism.
"They bring experience. Our role is to help them make the local connections while they're in this area, and to support them as they develop and learn new skills," he added.
As vice president for student affairs, Nadler often has a front-row seat to the many acts of kindness that take place both on- and off-campus. "They pretty much run the spectrum," he said, "with our students interacting with the very young to the very elderly, and with many causes in-between."
And while student volunteerism is no stranger to EIU campus life, it has taken on a new focus in recent years.
"We are fortunate that President (Bill) Perry included volunteerism when he rolled out his priorities for the university," Nadler said. "It has allowed us to create a new unit -- Student Community Service -- which, in turn, has allowed us to identify even more community service opportunities for our students.
"And by having a clearinghouse, so to speak, of volunteer opportunities in one place, we can encourage even greater service."
Now, Nadler continued, when a student says "I'd like to get involved, but I don't know where to go," that person is referred to Rachel Fisher, the highly energetic interim director of the nearly two-year-old office.
"Her work has been phenomenal," Nadler said, reflecting on Fisher's work. "She's developed contacts with a variety of human service agencies throughout Charleston, Coles County and Central Illinois. Her efforts have allowed us to connect with other people, agencies and good causes, in addition to letting us launch some of our own initiatives."
Fresh ideas and opportunities are important, Fisher said, especially when the needs of the community are constantly changing.
"We get excited about our established events, such as Panther Service Day, but we also look forward to new initiatives and new goals based on community needs and the passions of our students," she added. "We work to accommodate the needs of our community neighbors while providing our students some wonderful, meaningful experiences."
One of Eastern's newest initiatives is Jump Start to G.I.V.E. (Get Involved in Volunteer Efforts), made possible by the coordinated efforts of the offices of Student Community Service and New Student Programs. During the one-day project's debut in August 2009, 1,200 new students participated in volunteer projects on campus and in the community.
"We were pleasantly overwhelmed," Nadler said.
For many of those students, as they continue their college careers, volunteerism will become an integral part of their everyday lives.
"For many, it will become a part of their nature, if it hasn't already," Nadler continued. "Some (students) will volunteer on an individual level. Others will perform service activities as part of an organized group -- religious, greek, athletics...
"For example, I don't think many people realize how much time our student-athletes put in doing service, especially with the young children of the community. These kids look up to these athletes who, in turn, serve as mentors and good role models."
Nadler said Eastern promotes and encourages volunteerism for the obvious good it brings to the university and community-at-large.
"There are many things happening that wouldn't get done if it weren't for our young men and women. Many programs and agencies, including our public schools and recreational programs, rely on our students' help," he said.
In turn, those individuals benefit, too.
The goal of Eastern Illinois University is to encourage its students to make connections among all aspects of their lives -- academic, professional and personal -- and apply what they learn in the classroom, and in life, to new situations.
"We want more for our students than just a degree in a given subject area," Nadler said. "For them, their time here will be years of learning, growing and developing life skills that will help them better themselves. If we can help them accomplish this, we feel like we've not only helped them improve their quality of life, but shown them how to create a more fulfilling life."
FACTS AND FIGURES
EIU Service Partners: American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Camp New Hope, Catholic Charities, Charleston Food Pantry, Children Advocacy Centers of Illinois, City of Charleston, Douglas/Hart Nature Center, Good Neighbor Project, Habitat for Humanity, Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Mattoon P.A.D.S., Mattoon YMCA, Salvation Army, Serve Illinois Commission, Special Olympics, Teen Reach, Various Retirement/Nursing Homes -- and many others!
Major Days of Service at EIU: Jumpstart to G.I.V.E. (Get Involved in Volunteer Efforts) -- Early Fall; National MLK Jr. Day of Service -- January; and Panther Service Day -- Spring.
Number of Student Volunteers at EIU: July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007 -- 4,113 volunteers with 47,000 recorded hours of service; **July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009 -- 4,773 volunteers with 52,000 recorded hours of service; July 1 to Dec. 31, 2009 -- 5,800 (and still counting!) volunteers with 57,000 recorded hours of service.
(**First year that Student Community Service Office is in operation)
Goal set by President Bill Perry: 100,000 service hours and 8,000 student volunteers (annually) by June 30, 2013