It is difficult to pick up a local newspaper without finding a nasty headline about relations between East Lansing officials and students. The police are frustrated with the destructive actions of students, and they habitually group all Spartans into a clan of drunken hooligans bent on destroying the city. Students are tired of being controlled by their superiors and are struggling to find their niche in a city in which they are constantly at odds with their landlords, neighbors and peers.
Much of the unrest between students and officials stems from stereotypes and misconceptions; college students are seen as lazy, apathetic drunkards who rarely do anything that is not in some way self-serving (although this is sometimes the case). When college students willingly devote time to community service, however, this social stigma is reversed. [clothes]
According to Circle K president Danielle Fabbri, East Lansing Police Chief Tom Wibert, a member of Kiwanis, attended the group’s induction ceremony last spring. Circle K is a prominent volunteer organization comprised of 55 members at MSU, and Kiwanis is the parent organization to Circle K. Events such as this provide the opportunity for a beneficial liaison between authority and students. “[The police chief] sees bad things, but also sees this positive direction,” said Fabbri, a human biology and pre-dental senior. “It is important to make the residents of East Lansing notice what we’re doing.”
Volunteering is a passion (or requirement) for many students on campus, and organizations exist to give them outlets to act on the desire to serve others. Circle K is the bridge between Key Club, the high school community service club, and Kiwanis, the adult version. Fabbri has been the Circle K president since March, and she said the group helps at downtown soup kitchens and volunteers to sing carols and wrap gifts during the holiday season.
One year-round service project involves volunteering at the Free Store on Cedar Street in Lansing, Fabbri said. During the winter season, the amount of donations rose considerably due to tax breaks. “We try to sort through all of the clothes, and clients can come in and take what they need,” said Fabbri. “It’s basically a Goodwill store where [patrons] don’t have to pay.”
Many other activities occur on a regular basis, whether or not snow is on the ground and holiday cheer is in the air. These activities include helping at the Ronald McDonald House and the Lansing area Boys and Girls Club. According to Fabbri, Circle K members performed 1,500 hours of community service during fall semester. “There are a lot of people out there who are not given the same opportunities,” said Fabbri. “Most people in our club care about working for people. We like to make people’s lives easier.”
About 30 members gathered for the Jan. 16 Circle K meeting in the Minnesota Room of the MSU Union. Meetings are Sundays at 7 p.m. Chatter floated into the air from veteran members, and no preference freshman Elise Kranz saw the new semester as an opportunity to rack up some volunteering experience. “[This semester], I need to make more of an effort to reach out to the community,” said Kranz.
According to the Circle K calendar, upcoming events include aiding the MSU Student Food Bank on Feb. 1, and a Daddy-Daughter Dance on Feb. 7-8. According to club secretary Sara Buccilli, volunteers will coordinate pictures and help with crafts for dance participants. “I think it’s really important to give back,\” said Buccilli, a music therapy sophomore. Circle K interacts with other clubs across Michigan, including those of Grand Valley State University and the University of Michigan, and this process allows ideas to flourish. “It’s a good chance to get ideas from other clubs,” said Buccilli.
[cake] Also, aided by a parent organization like Circle K, the Spartan Campus Civitan (SCC) is MSU’s newest volunteer organization. Established in 2001, the group volunteers in soup kitchens at the Christ Lutheran Church and the Relay for Life event in the spring. President and education senior Jenna Delaney said the satisfaction of volunteering comes from being able to observe the effort firsthand. “Putting time and effort into something that you’re not going to be rewarded for is a reward itself,” said Delaney. “It’s helpful to know what’s going on in the community.”
During the holiday season, the SCC donated baby items to the Hill Academy, a group of high school teen mothers, Delaney said. The mothers compiled “wish lists” for Christmas, and organizations acted as surrogate Santas to help. “Organizations could donate whatever they could for the mothers,” said Delaney. “We went to [Meijer] and bought a bunch of baby stuff and dropped it off for them.”
Although the group is small, with only 10 members, faculty adviser Mary McGill praised the dedication of the few involved students. SCC meets every other Monday at 6:30 p.m. in C101 McDonel Hall, and current events include helping at the soup kitchen at Christ Lutheran Church, on Michigan and Pennsylvania avenues. “We’re small, but we’re mighty,” said McGill.
Students living on campus are often looking to bond with their peers, and they\’re in luck because dorms are rampant not only with dirty laundry, but also volunteering opportunities. Fliers bombard the residence halls with messages about the latest movie nights or study groups, but volunteering will undoubtedly bring about the same camaraderie.
This winter, the Residence Hall Association (RHA) sponsored two volunteer projects: a school supplies drive for the Refugee Development Center (RDC) in Lansing and the 7th Annual Polar Plunge, an event benefiting the Michigan Special Olympics. The Polar Plunge is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Lansing, and teams from each residence hall are invited to participate. “They couldn’t think of anyone better to do it,” said Vic Maurer, RHA director of Racial, Ethnic and Progressive Affairs.
According to Maurer, any person with an idea for a volunteer project can approach the association. “Being a larger organization, we have access to more resources,” said Maurer, a criminal justice senior. “It’s important that we recognize that we are in a privileged position. We have a responsibility, as student leaders, to give back to the community.”
The school supplies drive at the RDC lasted from Dec. 5 through the end of the fall semester. The program occurred in conjunction with two local area high schools and supported refugees from more than 11 countries, including Liberia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, especially Afghani women. “They were women that were part of women’s movements during the Taliban regime,” said Maurer. “It is good for MSU to show support for education.”
The school supply drive marked the first cooperative project between the RDC and RHA. An immediate goal for the RDC is to gain enough volunteers to enable them to stay open five days a week – the center is currently open Monday through Thursday. A hunger banquet, in support of the RDC, graphically displays the world hunger problem so attendees can easily recognize and work to address the issue, said Maurer. “There’s no reason the [RDC] can’t be open five days a week [except for] a lack of volunteers,” said Maurer. “[MSU] has a great track record of using community service as an educational component that creates more well-rounded individuals.”
Volunteer groups in the Lansing area are always seeking additional help as well. According to Katherine Smith, operation supervisor of the mid-Michigan American Red Cross (ARC) in Lansing, campus organizations, including sororities, work at the chapter sorting food to be sent to seven counties in the area in the late winter and early spring months. Smith works at the Regional Food Distribution Center in Lansing. “I tend to see more students for community service requirements,” said Smith. “I’d like to see that trend reversed.”
Everyone is adept to volunteering, but many insist they lack the time to hone their skills. Smith praised the value of volunteer hours on a résumé, especially in the cases in which students lack true job experience. “It’s really great to say you’ve volunteered,” said Smith. “I think it can be critical to a student who is looking to build a résumé or a portfolio. People who volunteer tend to be more dedicated in work, [and] employers see that.”
The ARC food center uses volunteers five days a week to distribute food to those in need. More than 2,000 volunteers donate their time, but the organization\’s non-profit status leaves little room for an advertising budget, Smith said. The ARC sends letters to local schools and businesses indicating that donations are accepted all year, but the most popular food drive is in the fall, before the holidays. “We have more of an increase of donations in the fall,” Smith said. “As you move into the holiday season, people are aware of the needs of the community.”
The Red Cross also breaches the boundaries of campus, as the organization donates food resources to the MSU Student Food Bank. According to director Kristin Moretto, more donations were received during the holidays and at the end of the year. “More groups on campus do food drives for us [during the holidays],” said Moretto, a second-year graduate student in student affairs administration. But they do accept donations year-round. “I think the MSU Food Bank provides a unique service in that it’s dealing with people’s real physical needs. It’s important to keep this program running.”
According to the MSU Student Food Bank Web site, about 10 volunteers are needed twice a month to organize food and help clients from 5 – 7 p.m. The food bank is located in the Olin Health Center on West Circle Drive. The dates for the spring semester are listed at www.olin.msu.edu.
Food is not the only need emphasized during the winter season. The Lansing Salvation Army, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, provides increased assistance through the holiday months, said volunteer coordinator Sandy Hunter. “We provide help 52 weeks a year, but our need is always greater [near Christmas],” said Hunter. “The numbers vary from year to year, depending on what’s going on.”
According to Hunter, 4,000 applications were submitted to the organization for holiday aid, an increase of 800 from last year. In total, 14,038 individuals received food vouchers, toys and other aid, about 1,000 more than last year’s holiday season. Some of these individuals were also “adopted out,” said Hunter, and were helped by specific volunteers during the holidays. “Everyone that came in to apply was helped,” Hunter said. “I think it’s a nice thing to give back.”
The Lansing Salvation Army helped more than 3,000 individuals and families through the end of November with their needs for clothes, shoes or transportation, Hunter said. The organization also partnered with the Marines in the Toy Shop Distribution program on Dec. 16, and families applied for this program from late October to early December. “[The Marines] use us as their channel for distributing toys,” said Hunter. “During these economic times, there are a lot of people that are affected. As long as we can provide help, we will continue to do so.”
The holidays are over, but those in need are still in need. With winter in full force, students may find themselves wanting to get out and do something – and volunteering is a perfect opportunity to do just that, and make a difference. The notion of a group of students willingly giving up a few hours in the afternoon for a selfless cause will make many East Lansing officials turn their heads and rethink those Spartan stereotypes. Nevertheless, the feeling of satisfaction from helping make the lives of those less fortunate a little easier is a welcome reward.

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