by Amy Vaerewyck
Instead of sleeping in on a recent Saturday morning, 18 students gathered at the Tivoli Student Union for a common purpose: to serve their community. The first-year students first took a tour of the Auraria Campus and then pitched in together to post educational signage on recycling bins—all part of their “History of Denver” class.
These are just a handful of the students at our university who are giving their time to help their communities and others in need—and the opportunities are plentiful! There’s the Urban Citizen Program
course, which guides students in local service-learning projects. There are “Alternative Break
” and other service programs from the Office of Student Life. There are lots of community engagement opportunities offered by the Experiential Learning Center
. And that’s just to name a few.
Read on for some inspiring stories of student volunteers in action.
Nurturing future health care providers
He remembers, when he was a teenager, how exciting it was to meet college students and wants to give others that experience while helping them on the way to their goals.
“The little interactions with upcoming students matter,” he said. “A high five for an awesome preparation with the [dental] hand piece (drill) or an extra minute showing some tricks I've learned in clinic can make all the difference in helping a middle school or high school student have a memorable experience.”
He plans to apply what he’s learning about kids from volunteering to his future work with young patients in his dental practice.
Reaching out to refugee children
“The Mercy Housing Initiative
is incredible, because as a volunteer, you get to be an integral part of helping kids from all over the world to learn and adjust to living in the United States,” said Joanna MacCutcheon of the local project designed to help the children of local refugee families. “Many of the children have gone through more than most Americans can imagine, and some of their stories are heartwrenching.”
“If I’d had the time, I would have invested even more afternoons [with Mercy Housing Initiative] each week,” she said. “I’ve always had a heart for community service.”
Next fall, she plans to study abroad in Kenya and hopes to volunteer there at an orphanage or pediatric medical center.
volunteering advice from students:
- “Find volunteer work doing whatever inspires you to be a better person.” – Joanna MacCutcheon, International Studies/Pre-nursing
- “Volunteer for the networking aspect, too. That’s lost on so many people, but it’s one of the most important things to nurture when you’re in school.” – Adam Anderson, Urban Planning
- “If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do. You will never regret doing something nice for other people.” – Mark Reynolds, Dental Surgery
Putting new skills into practice
Every student knows that Saturdays are precious. Jen Keller, DPT, chose to spend two hours of many Saturdays for the past year and half with 50 rambunctious elementary school kids.
She did it as part of the “Saturday Sports Club,” created by students in the Physical Therapy Program
and the College of Nursing
to bring healthy activities and exercise programs to nearby Paris Elementary School. After Keller’s friend convinced her to try it out one weekend, she was hooked.
“I like spending time knowing that it’s helping somehow,” Keller said. “For me, it was a way to be engaged in the community and share what I was learning in school.”
It was also a way for her to learn how to work with well with children.
“The more excited I was and the more energy I had, the more engaged the kids were,” she said.
She graduated in May and already has a job in pediatric physical therapy—and she’s putting the skills she learned at Saturday Sports Club into practice there!
Supporting minority students
Ever since she was a child, Marisol King’s father has told her this: “Choose the good.”
Now that she’s a student in the School of Dental Medicine
, she continues to live by her father’s lesson—focusing much of her community service on minority outreach.
One of her favorite volunteer experiences was serving as a preceptor in the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program, through which she was paired with an undergraduate minority student for nine weeks. The undergrad accompanied King to lectures, labs and clinical practice, and the pair met regularly to discuss his progress and future, as well as to chat about family and cultural issues.
“This was quite a learning experience for me,” King said. “It tested the skills and information I have learned thus far in dental school in having to explain very dense, difficult material to someone who had never seen or heard of it before.”
And when balancing all of her responsibilities—patient care, lab work, research and studying for exams—becomes overwhelming, King said volunteering helps her maintain a balanced perspective on what’s important in life.
“Volunteering reminds me how lucky I am to be where I am, studying the profession I love.”