A new University of Iowa program is making it easier than ever for students to jump into community service opportunities.
The program, Saturdays in Service, offers students living in the residence halls—along with anyone else who wants to join them, from faculty and staff to visiting parents or friends—the option to sign up for monthly service projects across the Iowa City community.
The projects, which can be completed in just a couple of hours, allow students to dip their toes into community service and build relationships with other students as well as the surrounding community.
“More and more students are seeking these types of opportunities, so we decided to create a program that would make it as easy as possible,” says Ben Parks, Hillcrest Hall coordinator and one of the Saturdays in Service organizers. “Students may come to campus and hear about something, but they don’t know where it is, or they’re hesitant to go check it out on their own. With Saturdays in Service, they just have to show up, and we’ll get them where they need to go and give them whatever materials they need.”
The program kicked off on Aug. 29, 2009, the first Saturday after fall semester classes began, with 325 students working on a dozen projects, from making lunch for families at the Ronald McDonald House to cleaning a local neighborhood center to building walls for Habitat for Humanity homes.
Melanie Adrian, a first-year psychology and pre-med student from Cedar Falls, Iowa, was one of the students who participated in the Habitat build.
“I was looking to get involved a service-oriented group, and this was a good opportunity to start volunteering right away, and to meet other people who also enjoy serving the community,” says Adrian, who lives in Rienow Hall. “Just that one afternoon Habitat build helped create a better sense of community in the residence hall, because I got to meet people that I saw around a lot and learned their names.”
Adrian had such a great experience, she decided to join the University’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity so she could work on another build.
Parks says he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from students.
“Students report that they learn about the needs of the community, and they get to know that Iowa City is much more than just the University of Iowa campus,” he says. “It prompts them to think about what they have, and what they can give.”
Saturdays in Service also connects students with the principles of The IOWA Challenge, a message that sets forth five expectations for UI students as a way to help them succeed in the classroom and beyond. Service is among them.
Other Saturdays in Service projects have included trail restoration work at Lake Macbride, a state park about 16 miles north of Iowa City; river clean-up along the Iowa River in Iowa City; and knitting sessions where students created hats, booties, and blankets for premature and critically ill infants at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
Future Saturdays in Service are scheduled for Feb. 13, March 27, and April 10, and parents and siblings are welcome to join in if they are visiting during those weekends, Parks says.
For more information about Saturdays in Service, visit www.liveon.uiowa.edu.
by Anne Kapler