Student voluntarism is on the rise

By Susie Snyder

College students volunteer their services because they want to give back to their communities what they got out of them, said Paul Lipson of the Opportunity Resource Institute in New York.

Lipson, who volunteers in the South Bronx with a group of students from Brown University, is one among a new trend of volunteer organizers in the United States. These organizers are finding more students wanting to help their communities.

College students, stereoyped earlier in the decade as the “me generation,” are volunteering their time to assist the poor, the disabled and the elderly, College Press Service representative Mike O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe said in 1987 students found they were dissatisfied with the “yuppie” stereotype, and they wanted to connect with the community.

Students from schools as diverse as Hood College in Maryland, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Midwestern State University in Texas, Brooklyn College and Illinois State University are part of the effort, O’Keeffe said.

Out of 67 colleges polled by Campus Compact, a group which encourages student public service projects, 43 percent reported student voluntarism has increased during the past five years, Campus Compact representative Susan Schwartz said.

Schwartz said volunteering is definitely growing, but it is not based on a “now vs. the ‘60s” concept. She said students now feel the importance of being involved, and when given the opportunities, students are getting involved.

Jane Kendall of the National Society for Internships and Experimental Education said, “There was a shift toward (materialism) in the late ’70s and early ‘80s.

“Those were some pretty lean years for us, but it has bottomed out. People feel the need for more meaning in their lives, for a greater sense of community.”

Lois Cronholm, Temple University-Philadelphia dean, said, “There’s nothing wrong with students focusing in on a career. What’s wrong is to say this is all I want.”

University of Vermont student Deirdre Kell said, “The world needs stockbrokers. But the human need is so great.” Kell works with the elderly and disabled.

Susan Peterson, DeKalb County Family Services, said the trend in volunteering is changing partly because more social services are turning to volunteers for help, instead of hiring help. She said budget cuts make volunteers desirable because there just is not enough money to pay employees.

She said the ages of volunteers are changing. Volunteers in the past have mostly been in their 30s, but now more seem to be in their 20s. Other volunteers are elderly or retired people, she said.

Also, volunteers are on the rise because education and the media have informed the public other people need help, Peterson said.

Overseas Peace Corps volunteers number about 5,000, but an increase to 10,000 is expected in the next year, said Peace Corps representative Stephen Rypkema.

ypkema said he sees volunteers who have been “lucky” in their lives and want to give something back to people less fortunate.

Lipson is encouraged by students’ emerging social conscience. “I want to see people who leave Brown take that with them,” he said. “I want them to come down to the South Bronx. I need them down here.”