photo courtesy of Monica Tambay
Students working at an organic farm as part of last semester’s Food, Poverty and Nutrition service-learning tutorial.
On a hot August morning, third-year Lynn Gusman spent her Saturday with a shovel in hand, tirelessly digging the foundation for a house. However, she was not alone. Gusman and fellow New College students were helping build affordable homes for Habitat for Humanity, one of the many local non-profit organizations in which students can be involved.
“It was all manual labor and it was miserable, but it’s one of the strongest memories I have of volunteering,” Gusman recalled.
Alums James Birmingham (’06) and Monica Tambay (’07) coordinate the Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) Service Learning and Volunteer Office. “We coordinate students to do volunteer work in the community, but we also serve as a liaison between the campus and non-profits in the area, nationally and globally,” Tambay explained. “It is really an individualized process. There’s so many different interests that people have, and we want to make sure we facilitate that. Some of the regular volunteer events we have done in the past are Habitat for Humanity, All Faiths Food Bank and Meals on Wheels. We’ve also worked with different organic farms. Students have had the opportunity to pick the food from these farms and understand how the organic farming process works.”
There are even opportunities for those who cannot find the time to volunteer during the busy semester. Birmingham and Tambay lead alternative breaks each fall and spring break. “If students do not want to necessarily laze around at home we give them the option to do service in a really cool location,” Tambay said. “Last year, we went to Biloxi, Miss. for fall break. We worked with the Hope Agency to build affordable homes for Hurricane Katrina victims.”
This year, for fall break, Birmingham will lead students to Vero Beach, Fla. to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Tambay will also coordinate service projects around Sarasota for those staying on campus for fall break.
Each Thursday this semester, Birmingham and Tambay will host non-profit interest lectures. Most recently, Manatee Glens, a local addiction and mental health facility, visited campus to discuss the opportunities they have for volunteer work. The two coordinators also teach service tutorials every semester where students are required to undertake 30 hours of service work.
“Past tutorials that we have done in the past were Heritage and Community Involvement: Historic Preservation of a Local Sarasota Cemetery and Organize 101: Consensus, Cooperation and Communication, which was an introduction to political organizing using consensus-based decision-making,” Birmingham explained.
Along with these service opportunities, students can also take part in the AmeriCorps VISTA program. “AmeriCorps VISTA is a huge government organization,” Tambay described. “It’s kind of like the Peace Corps but it is domestic. We work in order to empower students to do service in the community. There is a lot of things you can do, even in Florida specifically. We have a lot of VISTA alums and current VISTA leaders who work with environmental issues, poverty, human rights and ethnic & cultural issues. It really runs the gamut. Again, it’s really about your interests.” Tambay suggests those who are interested in the VISTA program should check the AmeriCorps.gov website and look at the listings of opportunities you would be interested being involved in. Students are also encouraged to talk to Birmingham and Tambay, who have contacts in the VISTA world.
“Volunteering and other service work builds experience with working that you may not have had just being a student,” Birmingham said. “Depending on what you’re studying, it can often draw connections between your academic life and the outside world. I think it gives you roots in Sarasota rather than just at New College and makes ties to the outside community, which I think is healthy.” About 30 percent of the New College student body participated in service projects last year, not including the students who were doing volunteer work on their own.
“No one can say they’re not volunteering because there is not an opportunity,” Gusman said. “There’s a huge, wide range of opportunities. All you need to do is act on it. I’ve been volunteering all my life and there is a feeling you get from helping others that can never be duplicated.”