According to Director of Student Activities and Community Service Sarah Thornton, , the pandemic has made it more difficult for SERVE, NVU-Johnson’s student-run community service organization, to coordinate events in the Johnson community. Many traditional events either violate COVID-19 guidelines or they are too complicated to coordinate as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Despite these challenges, Thornton noted, the SERVE program has hosted many events and community service projects so far this semester.
The major initiative was helping the NVU-Johnson campus with planning the Red Cross blood drive in November, which required a lot of coordination with the Red Cross and a lot of help from volunteers. The other major project was organizing the Harvest Baskets in collaboration with the Johnson food shelf.
SERVE managed to donate 65 boxes full of food and materials for Thanksgiving dinners to residents of Johnson in need. This project was a large, university-wide collaboration, as it required staff and volunteers to fundraise for the event.
Sodexo picked up all the food from Price Chopper and the SERVE volunteers packed it into the Harvest Baskets, which the men’s basketball team then transported to the Johnson food shelf.
SERVE has also sponsored smaller events and projects such as one in October when NVU-Johnson students put together Halloween-themed candy bags for the Johnson Elementary School students.
SERVE also promoted an opportunity for students to come and write cards of gratitude to the faculty and staff of NVU-Johnson. Other projects included projects apple tree planting, Halloween pumpkin painting, invasive species hunt, and pottery painting.
Unfortunately, Badger Alternative Breaks, which involve service trips to various American and international locations, remains on hold because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
SERVE is always looking for new volunteers to participate in holding these events and coming up with fresh new ideas about possible projects. Thornton believes becoming a SERVE volunteer is a great opportunity to get involved in the community on and off campus.
“I like to think that the students who participate have a deeper connection to the Northern Vermont University-Johnson campus, but also the community that they live in,” Thornton said. “Sometimes we forget that as students, when we come here, we’re now a member of this community. So, it’s a really nice way to sort of embed yourself in the new community where you live and feel connected.”
Thornton also noted that students who join the program learn new and valuable organizational and managerial skills that help to prepare them when entering the workforce. Volunteering for SERVE is uncomplicated, according to Janice Griggs, a senior member of the SERVE team.
“In reality, anyone can be a SERVE member with little expectations,” Griggs said. “That’s the great thing about SERVE. You don’t need to dedicate yourself 100% of the time. Someone can watch for our advertising, come to a volunteer event once, dedicate themselves to that event and then carry on with their lives.
“We don’t expect any sort of commitment. Volunteering should not be a strongly structured and forced event, because it happens best when someone wants to do it, not when they have to. We encourage you to come and go as you please, but put your full heart into it when you come.”
Griggs joined the SERVE program in her freshman year because she wanted to branch out in college by taking on new opportunities. “SERVE has turned me into the leader that I never knew I could be,” she said. “If anyone had told me my first year, that I would now be planning the SERVE events that I used to go to, I’m not so sure I would have believed them. However, I can’t imagine not being in this position. SERVE gave me a sense of hope and confidence that has shaped me. Being a senior now and looking back on the last four years, I have such an appreciation for SERVE and I would encourage anyone to do the same that I did.”
Among the SERVE projects is the NVU-Johnson food pantry, which provides food for students in need.
“I joined this program as a way to give some of my attention to my classmates and to ensure that I am doing something to try and make their college experiences better,” said SERVE member Becca Simon. “I enjoy Johnson and the people around me here, and working SERVE and the pantry means I can help provide them with resources they may need, while being able to engage and meet new people. There is a lot of time for one- on-one interaction when people are coming to pick up their food, and I find myself always getting to learn a little more about a new face. “
SERVE also offers paid employment opportunities, which involve a more structured commitment than straight volunteering, according to Thornton. Becoming a student employee of SERVE takes some commitment as it requires students to help organize, plan, gather supplies needed, set up and take down these projects and events.
“For most of our SERVE student employees, aside from our food pantry, employees work eight hours a week,” Thornton said. “A lot of that is planning and outreach to members of the community to try and organize events.”
Thornton noted that putting together SERVE events requires considerable coordination and organization. “When our SERVE student employees have an event in mind, they fill out an event checklist. It’s getting the event in the Event Management System, which goes on the university calendar, working with our marketing student employee to both SLAP and SERVE to get fliers out, organizing and arranging materials, and then implementing the event on the day.”