They collect food for those who have little. Befriend youngsters who need guidance. Talk to souls who feel hopeless and alone. Build homes to assist low-income families. Organize human rights rallies and awareness campaigns. Design sets for a play at an underfunded elementary school. Spend time with hospital patients. Serve meals at shelters. Care for abandoned animals. Encourage voter registration. Produce public-access television.
You name it, they do it. Usually, they do it for free. They are University of Iowa students, volunteering their time and energy to help dozens of organizations and individuals in the Iowa City area.
Last year, UI students banded together to develop a new program called The 10,000 Hours Show, or 10K for short. The goal: to get 1,000 people to do 10 hours of community service apiece. As a reward, those who completed their 10 hours received a free concert ticket.
This year, 10K is back and hoping to build on last year’s success. About 60 organizations are participating. They range from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which has around 500 college students in its volunteer ranks, to one- or two-person operations that need volunteers to stay afloat.
More than 875 volunteers registered last year, putting in 13,572 hours for various charities and causes and earning a seat to see rocker Ben Folds last spring.
Sure, some did it for the free ticket. But many who started volunteering to see a concert got hooked on service. Others had been volunteering all along, in their own hometowns in high school and at Iowa before 10K even existed.
No matter what the motivation, the idea was to get people volunteering. Period.
“We want everyone to see that volunteering is really fun. You get to meet so many wonderful people and do so many interesting things. You can find something you absolutely love to do, and you can make a difference,” says Mark Kresowik, an interdepartmental studies major from Iowa City and 10K director of volunteer coordination.
“It does so much for the students and for the community. It’s a winning situation all the way around,” he says. “The 10,000 Hours Show is just the kick in the butt to get students in the door, that extra incentive.”
The University has a rich history of volunteerism. One example is Dance Marathon, the annual campus fund-raiser that has collected more than $3 million in the past 10 years for families treated at the Children’s Hospital of Iowa. It is the largest student-run philanthropy west of the Mississippi River and the nation’s largest dance fund-raiser affiliated with the Children’s Miracle Network.
“Once you start, volunteering is addictive,” Kresowik says. “It’s such a rush to see that you’re having a positive impact on other people’s lives.”
One community group that utilizes up to 20 student volunteers at a time is Table to Table, which gathers donations from food providers and channels them to local agencies that serve the homeless, hungry, and at-risk.
Five students returned this semester for another year at Table to Table. Elgn Arney, a senior from LeGrand, Iowa, started working at Table to Table in the summer of 2003 when he couldn’t find a paying job and wanted to stay busy until classes started.
“Once I started, I really enjoyed bringing food to people who needed it most,” says Arney, who is a literature, science, and the arts major. “I think people need to be less selfish and self-centered and give our time, which seems to be precious in today’s society.”
Amelia Colwell joined Table to Table last year to gain experience with social service agencies that will help her build connections and learn about a career in social work.
But she also wanted to experience Iowa City as a real community, not just a college town. It has been an eye-opening experience, says the junior from Waterloo, Iowa.
“I’ve realized that I am living in the same city with people who have economic problems I can’t even imagine,” says Colwell, a psychology and social work double major. “I’ve learned about poverty and social issues, and I’ve also seen the generosity of people in this community.”
Table to Table volunteer manager David Wellendorf appreciates and supports the 10K effort, but he says that many student volunteers he works with aren’t that interested in tangible rewards. They tend to shy away from the spotlight and public recognition.
They just want to “do their thing” for its intrinsic, intangible value, Wellendorf says.
A student who seems to have an unlimited supply of volunteer spirit is Holly Warth, who drives a collection route for Table to Table, works at a local free medical clinic, and participates in the “School Buddies” program through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County.
Every Monday at 2 p.m., Warth visits 11-year-old Eunice Kim, a sixth-grader at Horace Mann Elementary in Iowa City. They spend an hour together in the school library, playing games and chatting. Eunice teaches Warth how to play chess; Warth asks Eunice about her activities: a spelling test, soccer game, gymnastics, violin lessons.
More than 100 Iowa students signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters programs at a 10K-sponsored volunteer fair in September. Warth, a social work major from Fort Madison, Iowa, gains knowledge for her degree at the same time she’s having a blast.
“It’s great to think I’m helping Eunice with her English, since she mostly speaks Korean at home. She’s become more talkative and excited since I worked with her last year,” Warth says, calling volunteer work “the fun stuff” in an otherwise demanding schedule of classes and obligations.
Educators are joining students in the push to promote awareness and participation in community service.
The Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Student Services, and many community partners have formed the Civic Engagement Initiative at Iowa. They are launching a web site this year, Volunteer Link, that will help volunteers and organizations connect.
Iowa’s Center for Teaching presented workshops this fall that offered instructors ideas about how to develop classroom activities that integrate volunteer service into the curriculum, transforming students into “active, responsible citizens.”
Also, Rahima Wade, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the UI College of Education, has been named a John Glenn Scholar in Service-Learning in the area of teacher education by the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University.
The focus on volunteering isn’t surprising in a state that ranked second in the nation in the percentage of adults age 16 and older who volunteer; Iowa is 40.8 percent, while the national average is 27.4 percent.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an adult who volunteers spends about 52 hours a year volunteering. According to the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, the current estimated dollar value of a volunteer hour in the state of Iowa is $13.36. Therefore, Iowans’ volunteerism last year generated an economic impact of $832,412,170.
However, it’s about more than money or free tickets, emphasizes Monique DiCarlo, director of the Women’s Resource and Action Center and participant in the Civic Engagement Initiative.
“The 10,000 Hours Show is about creating community. The concert itself is another way to connect and be with people who believe that actively engaging—in your campus, your town, your state, your country—is very important,” DiCarlo says. “It creates the kind of energy and positive hope that makes people want to do even more.”
by Amy Schoon
For more information on 10K and volunteering at Iowa, go to www.10000hours.org.