JSC SERVEs the community

SERVE, Johnson State’s center for community engagement and service, is still in the process of planning activities for the fall semester. While there are a number of events planned so far, there is a distinct emphasis this year on bringing student input into the planning process.

“SERVE basically exists to connect students with civic engagement in whatever capacity possible or in whatever way students are interested in participating,” said Sarah Golden, the mentoring coordinator for SERVE.

In addition to the SERVE Local events, which vary and take place nearly every week of the academic calender, SERVE also participates in larger one-off events such as the Hike for Hunger, an annual fundraiser coming up this Saturday, Sept. 26.

According to Golden, Hike for Hunger isn’t just a great way to raise money for a good cause; it’s also an enjoyable experience. “It’s actually a lot of fun,” said Golden. “[You] start a team and recruit people and you fundraise. The hike itself is kind of more symbolic than anything. You get a t-shirt and you eat pizza and do some yoga. All the money raised for that goes to Hunger Free Vermont, which is a really awesome organization.”

Some SERVE activities are within walking distance. On Wednesdays SERVE supports the CommUnity meal at the United Church of Johnson.
“It’s a lot of older folks who maybe just don’t have quite the ability to cook for themselves anymore who’ll catch a ride and just sit and hang out with their church buddies and eat food,” said Golden. “We always have to-go containers so that if there are people who are potentially homebound people can load up a bunch of stuff and take it to whomever and then everything that’s left over gets donated directly to Johnson Food Shelf.”

SERVE also participates in DREAM, a non-profit mentoring program that pairs JSC students with Johnson Elementary School students living in subsidized housing, and America Reads—a work-study program aimed at making reading a fun activity for students at Cambridge Elementary School students.

Other events such as the semiannual blood drives, training sessions with the North Country Animal League and cooperative work with the Clarina Howard Nichols Center are still in the planning stages.

Megan Cavanaugh, who interns for SERVE as a student coordinator, wants students to know SERVE is willing to work with them to build a custom community service experience: “We’re really keen on listening to the student body,” she said. “That’s something that people I don’t think realize a lot. They’re just like, ‘oh, what are the SERVE events?’ I would just emphasize to bring us your ideas because if someone says, ‘hey let’s go here,’ we’ll definitely coordinate that for them.”

Golden stressed that student input will be a key factor in generating new ideas for SERVE activities: “A huge part of my job, and what I really want to do with my job, is to try to get as much creative input from students as possible. Not only does that help me out and give me ideas but that [input] gives students a voice and gives them an opportunity to come in my office and say ‘here’s a place I know about that I’d really like to get involved with.’”

SERVE is also a fine way to build relationships with other JSC students, according to Cavanaugh. “I just think that you kind of see how the campus is organized and how it works, but you’re also able to just see how people work together and experience that [teamwork]. It just like helps me with conversations,” said Cavanaugh. “Just being able to skip around the cafeteria with a rainbow basket [for last spring’s Kindness Week], doing it because it was my job helped me socialize with the student body.”

Students can earn credit for working with SERVE as part of work-study, but the real benefits that come from community service are less quantifiable, according to Golden. “People who participate in civic engagement and community service and feel connected to things outside of themselves are statistically much happier people,” she said.

The SERVE office is located in room 408 of the Stearns Student Center.