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Report of the Exploratory Group on Volunteer Service
April 27, 2000

Group members: Virginia Collins, John Echeverri-Gent, Cindy Frederick, Nancy Gansneder, Frank Griffiths, Suzie Hengl, Anna Levin, Dolly Prenzel, Penny Rue, Jack Syer, Dave Wilkinson, and Les Williams

 

I. Introduction

Volunteer service is a fundamental aspect of the public service at the University. In the public eye, student community service is the most visible facet of the University’s commitment to public service. Each year approximately 6000 students and untold members of the faculty and staff contribute volunteer service. Their service gives eloquent testimony to the University's social leadership and commitment. In addition to its extensive contribution to community welfare, the University’s tradition of volunteer community service demonstrates its civic engagement and promotion of active citizen involvement in resolving social problems. In the process, the remarkable scope of community service performed by students, faculty and staff, helps to dispel the misleading elitist image that some attribute to the University.

II. Magnitude and Impact of Volunteer Service at the University

There is an impressive array of volunteer service at the University. Yet, one of the findings of our group is that there is no systematic effort to collect information about these activities. As far as we know, there is no gathering of data concerning the volunteer activities of faculty and staff. Information about student community service is collected in a very decentralized manner. We feel that it would be beneficial for the University to collect information about the community service of students, faculty and staff in a more systematic manner, and we make some preliminary recommendations concerning how this might be done below. In this section, we report on selected student community service activities, "Make A Difference Day" and a new community service initiative by the Alumni Association and the Young Alumni Council.

Madison House, an independent non-profit organization, is the largest single student community service organization at the University. Its nationally recognized community service model is designed to achieve three objectives: providing students with a meaningful volunteer experience that allows them to gain a greater perspective and understanding of the community and themselves; empowering and training student leaders to recruit, train, and support student volunteers; and cooperating with community organizations to meet social needs and promote community voice. During the 1999/2000 school year 2,924 UVA students volunteered through Madison House to perform weekly service at 120 sites throughout the community. These students volunteered over 110,000 hours of service in sixteen programs including: medical services, tutoring, housing improvement, and aid to migrant farm workers . Together they touch the lives of some 17,000 members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle community. In just the last year, the Migrant Aid Program was named a daily point of light by the Points of Light Foundation in Washington D.C., and Madison House began an exciting new "Science and Technology Mentoring Program" that provided volunteers serving as mentors to science projects and tutors for computer applications and programming.

The Virginia Service Coalition, founded just two years ago, is an evolving coalition that includes approximately 200 student CIO’s with a membership of almost 6000 students. These organizations have decided to make the VSC a forum for discussion, cooperation and ultimately joint community service actions. Further development of the Virginia Service Coalition may potentially make it an important coordination point for student community service at the University.

The University’s Greek organization are an important component of the Virginia Service Coalition and remarkably active in their community service. The Inter-Sorority Council (ISC), Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), Black Fraternity Council (BFC), and Fraternity-Sorority Council (FSC) have joined to raise $45,000 by the next academic year to fund the construction of a Habitat for Humanity house. In addition, the ISC runs a clothing drive, a fruit gleaning and a benefit concert. The IFC operates a recycling program and plans to implement a ten hour service pledge program. The BFC promotes mentoring, tutoring, informal forums to reach out to youth and fundraising for different causes in the African American community. The FSC and its member organizations, serve the community through food and clothing drives, blood drives for the American Red Cross, sexual assault awareness programs among other community service programs

Finally, Alpha Phi Omega’s 80 members perform an average of more than three hours of service per week throughout the academic year.

Students at the Law School are also actively engaged in community service. This year, they provided more than 1100 hours of pro bono legal service to community residents. These services were made available through the Legal Aid Society, Migrant Aid Program, and in local soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

More than 300 fourth year students intern at 120 community organizations through the University Internship Program operated through the Cooper Center for Public Service and the Departments of Psychology and Sociology. These students make a two semester service commitment primarily to non-profit and public service organizations. Together, they provide more than 48,000 hours of service to local schools, courts, social work programs, medical facilities, etc.

In just the past few years, Make A Difference Day has evolved into a major enterprise involving more than ninety organizations, departments and city groups. Last year more than 3000 people volunteered for a Make A Difference Day project. In 1998, the USA Weekend and Points of Light Foundation recognized the efforts of the organizers of Make A Difference Day by selecting it for a $10,000 national award.

In order to meet the changing interests of their membership, the UVA Alumni Association and the Young Alumni Council initiated a new program called Cavaliers Care Coast-to-Coast on January 27, 2000. This new program is designed to encourage alumni across the nation to participate in service-based activities organized by UVA Alumni Clubs. A pilot program has been implemented beginning in March 2000. There are plan to launch a full-scale program with all Alumni clubs participating by April 2001.

III. Recommendations For Action

Volunteer community service is an area where a very modest infusion of University funds can make a big difference in its contribution to the community. In addition, modest measures to promote community service can make major improvements in the University's image in the community. Providing limited support for the measures listed below also will enrich the learning experience that students gain at the University.

 

A. Service-Learning: The Fourth Credit Option

Service-learning is a pedagogical strategy to augment in class room teaching with experiential learning through community service. Although the Education School and the Cooper Center for Public Service, and the College of Arts and Sciences offer opportunities for service-learning, the University is well behind the leading innovators in this field. There are opportunities to broaden the scope of service-learning at the University. If properly implemented, service-learning should add to class room discussions making them more useful for students and faculty alike. Service-learning has also contributed to the faculty research.

We propose that the University enhance the role of service-learning by authorizing the "Fourth Credit Option" (FCO). The FCO is designed to encourage student initiative and faculty supervision to augment classroom pedagogy with experiential learning through community service. Under the FCO, students would submit a proposal outlining a plan to enhance their classroom learning with learning through community service. Note that every proposal should describe the community service that will be performed and the academic product - research paper, etc. - that will be produced based on the community service performed. The proposal should be refined through discussions with the student’s faculty instructor whose participation in the FCO is on a voluntary basis. Final approval of the project would require that the student, faculty instructor, and a representative of the community agency where the student will volunteer his or her service each sign a contract based on the student’s proposal. Students receive credit only for their academic project, not for their community service. A student will receive an additional course-hour credit upon receiving a passing grade for the course and for the academic product that they generate through their community service.

Successful implementation of the FCO will lead to further expansion of service-learning at the University. We envision that as more students and faculty experience the pedagogical benefits service-learning, they will become more motivated to expand the role of service-learning in the University’s curriculum. Faculty will become more interested in developing courses that integrate service-learning with their classroom pedagogy. To promote the development of service-learning the University will need to provide staff support and funds for service-learning course development grants and a summer institute for faculty wishing to develop service-learning courses.

 

B. Increased support for student volunteer service activities

The great success of student volunteer service is one of the hidden secrets of the University. One of the objectives of our groups proceedings has been to survey the range of volunteer activities at the University and to identify any unfulfilled needs in volunteer community service at the University and to develop a better understanding of how the diverse range of activities can be coordinated to maximize their complementarities. We found that the University’s association with Madison House is a great strength since Madison House provides a national model for volunteer agencies specializing in the development of student leadership through the implementation of sustained volunteer programs lasting throughout the academic year. At the same time, we found four pressing needs that should be addressed:

  1. In light of the recent decision by the Student Council to gradually eliminate its funding of Madison House, there is a need to assist Madison House with its fund-raising efforts to ensure that at the minimum it can maintain its current level of activities.
  2. More support to student volunteer community service organizations outside of Madison House is necessary in order to make their efforts more effective and to encourage new initiatives.
  3. There is need for increased support to meet the demand by both community groups and students for group projects usually involving one-shot events such as "Make A Difference Day"
  4. A clearinghouse is needed to direct community inquiries concerning University volunteer service to the appropriate source

Below we list new measures to strengthen Madison House and other student volunteer service organizations that through a modest commitment of resources would have a major impact on community service activities at the University.

  1. Assistance for Fund-raising Activities at Madison House. Madison House serves as an asset to the University in at least three ways: a) It provides valuable training to University Students in community service while developing students leadership capabilities; b) Its community service activities enhances the University’s goodwill among the community; and c)By symbolizing the University’s commitment to community service and instilling such a commitment in its students, it has facilitated the University’s fund-raising activities. Despite these benefits to the University, the Student Council voted in the Fall of 1999 to eliminate its funding for Madison House over the next ten years. This funding amounts to one-quarter of all Madison House revenues. At a time when it already must turn away hundreds of students and requests from at least 20 community locations for volunteer services, Madison House has agreed to this arrangement with the understanding that the President’s Office will assist it in raising enough funds to replace the lost funding. We want to reiterate in the strongest terms the importance of the University fulfilling this commitment to Madison House since failure to do so would result in severe cutbacks in the services provided by this national model for student community service.
  2. Assistance for other student volunteer service groups. The dynamism and constant infusion of new persons into student organizations creates special needs. These are areas where a very small commitment of resources can make a very large impact. We recommend the University extend support to student volunteer groups in the following manners:
  1. Office space. The offices of student groups might be provided by renting the basement floor of Madison House. This common location would facilitate potential synergies among them.
  2. Tool-shed. If student offices are centrally located at Madison House, then it would make sense to locate the tool-shed there as well. Madison House already has a tool-shed that might be used or expanded if need be.
  3. Office Supplies. Student volunteer organizations need office supplies, especially publicity materials.
  4. Transportation. We will evaluate alternative measures for the University to provide transportation to student volunteers.

 

C. Alumni Volunteer Activities.

In establishing Cavaliers Care Coast-to-Coast to encourage alumni service-based activities nationwide, the UVA Alumni Association and the Young Alumni Council are connecting with their memberships in novel ways. We feel that the University should work closely with its Alumni to support their volunteer initiatives. We recommend that the University:

  1. Make certain that the Alumni Association web page has a link to the University Public Service Database.
  2. Promote measures to take advantage of possible synergies between alumni and student activities. For example:
  1. Madison House's Alternative Spring Break
  2. At Notre Dame, local alumni chapters sponsor a student to perform community service over the summer. We encourage the University to investigate similar opportunities.
  1. Consider ways to make the expertise of the faculty available to alumni chapters. This might involve:
  1. Ensuring that the University's speaker's bureau has information on faculty that would be relevant to community service.
  2. Creating a separate "volunteer bureau" that would maintain a database on faculty expertise relevant to community service. Such an arrangement might be especially helpful in areas such as medical care where the University can contribute practical skills in addition to speakers.

 

D. Recognition of Volunteer Service

In addition to enhancing incentives to participate in community service, many forms of recognition publicize the service provided by the University to the broader community. Here are four ideas deserving of consideration:

  1. The president of the University give an annual award for most innovative community service activity conducted by the University’s students, faculty, and or staff . The award might be known as the "President's Cup".
  2. The University holds a public service awards dinner to be hosted by the President with a celebrity speaker renowned for her community service. The President would present the "Presidents Cup" on this occasion and possibly other forms of recognition for public service.
  3. The University take out an advertisement in the Daily Progress announcing the awards or possibly listing all those members of the University whom have contributed a certain level of community service.
  4. The President include a statement about the University's community service in his State of the University Address.

 

E. Better Collection of Volunteer Service Data

  1. The Virginia Service Coalition, an alliance of students dedicated to coordinating student volunteer activities, along with Madison House, has begun the job of collecting data on student volunteer service. However, there is need to further develop their efforts. The University should provide staff assistance to assist these efforts.
  2. It would be useful for the University to have information about the volunteer service activities of its faculty, but at the same time it is important to respect the prerogative of individual faculty members to decide whether they wish to divulge this information. The Office of Institutional Assessment conducts surveys that include questions concerning volunteer service. Faculty responses to these surveys are submitted on an entirely voluntary basis. We suggest that the University investigate the usefulness of the information collected by these surveys and work with the Office of Institutional Assessment to fashion an instrument for properly collecting information on faculty volunteer service.
  3. There is no instrument for collecting and aggregating information about the community service of staff. We suggest that the University consider ways of collecting such information.

F. Developing the Public Service Web Page

Volunteer service is an especially dynamic sector that will require keeping close tabs upon if the inventory of activities is to be kept up to date. We recommend:

  1. The advisory board of the Public Service Web Page include at least one representative from the volunteer service sector. This representative might be an informed faculty or staff member of the University. In addition, it may make sense to include a student representative who is knowledgeable about student volunteer activities.
  2. Since volunteer service is a distinctive category of activity it would be especially useful to have a separate search capacity for volunteer service activities included in the Public Service Web Page.

G. Create a Staff Position for Community Service

The provision of additional administrative support is essential to the successful implementation of most of the recommendations above. We recommend the creation of a new administrative line to enhance the effectiveness of volunteer community service and service-learning at the University. This line might be located in one of several offices: the Dean of Students, the Dean of the College, the Vice Provost for Research and Public Service, the Cooper Center for Public Service, or the Office of the President. In order to successfully fulfill its responsibilities, the position should be at the level of associate dean or Director of Community Service. The duties of the position should include:

  1. Providing support for student volunteer service activities. In recent years, the University has seen an increase in community service groups operating outside of Madison House. Some of these groups organize annual events such as "Make A Difference Day" other groups have particular areas of concern. Still, other groups are not community service groups per se, but participate in community service in an ad hoc fashion. The occupant of the new position should provide a liaison between various student organizations in an effort to coordinate their activities. The Exploratory Group found that lack of continuity in leadership and shortage of institutional memory is one of the weaknesses inherent to student volunteer organizations. The new administrator should act as a resource to contribute continuity and facilitate the ease of transition from one year’s student volunteer leaders to another.
  2. Serving as a focal point for requests from the community for volunteer service. The growing number and varieties of volunteer service organizations at the University poses a challenge to people outside the University. At this point there is no clear access point for community members to help them identify the proper organization to assist with their needs. Often community members get discouraged in their search to find an appropriate organization. At the same time, volunteer service groups miss opportunities to provide service. The occupant of the new position will help to satisfy community volunteer service group needs by connecting community members with community service groups at the University.
  3. Assisting in the implementation of the "Fourth Credit Option" for Service Learning. Below we elaborate a proposition for the creation of a "Fourth Credit Option" to promote service-learning at the University. The new administrator should play a key role in implementing the "Fourth Credit Option" by helping to direct students with community service opportunities and by helping to ensure that their experiential learning strategies meet the University’s academic standards.
  4. Acting in an advisory capacity to efforts to keep the entries of volunteer service activities up to date on the University’s web page for public service.
  5. Helping in the collection of data concerning the volunteer service of the members of the University community

 

IV. Concluding Remarks

The recommendations listed above will greatly increase the effectiveness of community service at the University with only a very modest commitment of resources. Furthermore, the experiences of peer institutions such as the University of North Carolina and William & Mary demonstrate that measures to enhance community service and service-learning at the University potentially can attract substantial funding through alumni contributions and foundation grants. Promoting volunteer service and service learning at the University will advance the University’s mission to serve the community and to empower individuals to become engaged citizen-leaders committed to improving society.

 

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