By CARSON J.S. REICHARDT
Many student organizations require that members log a certain number of service hours to remain in good standing. Churches and religious groups will organize them as ways to help embody their faith. Some people may just be truly altruistic. However, many advocate that there’s a difference between simple volunteering and engaging on a higher level.
Drake first-year Ashly Frazier, an environmental science major, said she came to college with a desire to serve. Over the summer before coming to campus, she applied to be a part of the Engaged Citizen Corps and was accepted.
“The Engaged Citizen Corps has only been started to be offered the past three years for incoming freshmen,” Frazier said. “This year, there’s only ten of us out of the entire Drake community. You form a partnership with a local nonprofit in the Drake community. I’m partnered with Anawim Housing, which serves low-income families and people who have experienced, are experiencing or are transitioning out of homelessness.”
Members of the Engaged Citizens Corp log over 300 hours of service work throughout the school year. Combining this hands-on work with new information at Drake led Frazier to change some of her conceptions of volunteering.
“I never thought of service in the same way as I did in high school,” Frazier said. “I took an FYS called Toxic Charity that shifted my perspective on what volunteering is versus what service learning is, and how to make an impact with service projects.”
A key difference between the two ideas has to do with who is receiving what they want. Volunteer work can often be what done without the input of those who are receiving aid. Service learning, on the other hand, involves working with those getting help to find out what’s actually useful to them. An example of the former, according to Frazier, is tie blankets.
“They don’t make much sense,” Frazier said. “They don’t provide that much warmth. They can work well for certain projects, like giving them to kids in hospitals, but for someone who’s homeless, it’s not practical. They can’t wash them, they get dirty, they can’t dry them. It gives people a lot of their own self-fulfillment, but it’s something that if you gave it to someone experiencing homelessness right now, it’s not very beneficial for them. It’s the downfall of a lot of forms of volunteering. People don’t think through the entire process or how the person will take the product and use it.”
Frazier is currently working with the Residence Hall Association on a similar project that will have a targeted impact. The group will be collecting plastics bags from students across campus and turning them into “plarn,” which means plastic yarn. From there, the plarn will be turned into sleeping mats that will be given to people experiencing homelessness. These mats also have several benefits to the people receiving them.
“Because of how thick the plarn actually is, it’ll keep people warm, provide more cushion and keep things on top of the mats away from water damage,” Frazier said. “When rain hits, people have nowhere to go, and their stuff is destroyed, so these mats can help with that. It provides an extra layer of protection. They’re also really easy to clean. They can be dunked in a pond or lake, and it’ll clean them really well. They don’t absorb like how a tie blanket would. They’re quick to dry, too. They’re pretty lightweight, can be rolled over your shoulder. People experiencing homelessness often have to take all their belongings with them, so that’s helpful,”
Working together with the community was a goal of Frazier’s work with the Engaged Citizen Corps and the RHA project.
“Drake can be very isolated from the community, so it’s a great way to bridge that,” Frazier said. “Drake’s not its own bubble, it’s not its own island in the sea of Des Moines. I think doing little things to bring people onto campus will help Drake make those connections.”
Photo courtesy of Carson J.S. Reichardt