Helping students help others

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UW Tacoma students (and students from other schools) helped build houses in Bend, Oregon over spring break 2010 for Habitat for Humanity.

While other college students converge on sandy beaches in the spring, a group of UW Tacoma volunteers spend their vacation raising trusses, pounding nails and painting the walls of a home they helped construct for a family in need.

Students taking part in UW Tacoma’s Spring Breakaway Trip in March, partner with Habitat for Humanity to take The Collegiate Challenge, Habitat’s ongoing alternative spring break program. The national program has been gaining momentum for more than 20 years. Since 1989, more than 168,000 volunteers have raised more than $16 million dollars for the challenge and built hundreds of affordable houses for needy families across the country and abroad.

The volunteers became engaged with Habitat through Volunteer Services, a program of UW Tacoma Student Affairs that connects students and staff with local organizations in need of helping hands.

Plenty of students want to volunteer, but they don’t always know how to connect with an organization; some aren’t even sure what they want to do. Volunteer Services was established for that very reason — to help students find a way to help others. “We’re making it as easy as possible to volunteer,” says Bo Bae, student leadership specialist.

Volunteer Services operates three volunteer programs that started this year. Students can take part short-term tasks done on campus to assist a local non-profit. One group of helpers filled sample-sized shampoo bottles for Nativity House, a drop-in homeless shelter; another helped fill food boxes for Northwest Harvest.

There are also quarterly events held off campus at a local non-profit, in which all UW Tacoma community members can participate. Last fall, the first was held at St. Leo’s Food Connection, where volunteers distributed food to homeless individuals. This winter, volunteers worked in the greenhouses of L’Arche Farm and Gardens, helping residents with developmental disabilities prepare hanging flower baskets they’ll sell to generate income for L’Arche residents.

The Spring Breakaway Trip was the most anticipated project of the year. Under the leadership of Nicole Blair, IAS lecturer, and Bae, they traveled to Bend by bus and spent the week working on homes by day and exploring the town by night. Volunteer Services plans to make the trip an annual event, with different projects in different locations every year. Their maiden voyage this year was close to home, but they hope to broaden their horizons in future years, traveling to locations farther away and possibly abroad.

The 12 UW Tacoma students each raised $200 to participate in the trip. Volunteer Services helped students initiate a letter campaign, soliciting family and friends for donations to cover costs. Anthony Brock, a sophomore majoring in American studies, raised most of his funds this way; only a small portion of his trip was paid for out of pocket.

Brock is a firm believer in volunteerism. “Growing up, I had YMCA coaches and community members who gave their time and were a positive influence on me,” he says. “I strive to help others in any way I can. Habitat provided UW Tacoma students with a good opportunity and it was one I could not pass up.”

Senior Libby Asbell, a psychology major, was looking for something different than a vacation for her spring break this year. She’s worked on a Habitat house before, in Reynolds Park, Tacoma. “Habitat is a great organization, so I’m happy to be doing more work with them,” she says.

Written by: 
Neva Hutchinson '10 / August 18, 2010
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Associate Director of Communications, or 253-692-4536