12/17/09 — College students learn about helping others

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College students learn about helping others

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 17, 2009 1:46 PM

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Meals On Wheels volunteer coordinator Andrea Bone, right, talks with Northwestern University students Katerina Herder, center, and James Ballard about their food delivery route to Fremont on Monday morning.

A group of Northwestern University students are giving up part of their holiday break to learn more about community service programs like WAGES.

Dr. Marlee Ray, executive director of WAGES -- Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency -- said she contacted the school upon learning of the "Alternative Student Breaks" program.

"It seeks to educate (students) on specific social issues by immersing them in service learning activities in communities across the country," she said. "When I shared with them the kinds of social programs we have at WAGES, the university felt that their goals and our programs were a good match."

Fourteen students from the Illinois school will plug into various roles this week, Ms. Ray said.

"We're going to give them an overview of all our programs," she said. "They will be working with our Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs by helping with our recognition service.

"They are going to work with the congregant meal program through the Goldsboro Senior Center -- WAGES provides meals daily -- they are actually going to help with the holiday party Wednesday (and) will help by setting up and doing some of the activities and games."

The group will also assist with the Head Start and Meals on Wheels programs, the latter being a big undertaking as Meals on Wheels shuts down for a few days over the holidays.

"They'll help us pack boxes of food staples for our Meals and Wheels and congregant programs," Ms. Ray explained. "When we close for several days over the holidays, we send home non-perishable food to our homebound Meals on Wheels participants.

"Taking on that project is a lot of extra work and time, so having a group of volunteers available to help us bring in those things and pack up three days' worth to deliver is wonderful."

And then there are the daily routines that keep the agency in running order, she said, such as office duties, working on the Web site, maintaining the playground.

"Our goal for them by the end of the week is to have a good understanding of how WAGES coordinates 11 different programs and also have an understanding of how those programs make a difference in our community," Ms. Ray said.

This is the second such trip for Katerina Herder, a senior dance and sociology major from Maryland. Most of the destinations are in the U.S., she said, with a smattering of overseas options.

"(Northwestern) seeks out trips to look at places all around the country to get students that are interested in doing service, where otherwise they might just be sitting at home during their break," said James Ballard, a senior from Evanston, Ill., majoring in German and theater. "You get to see the country and what programs there are. It's a great opportunity to meet like-minded people as well."

It's also a chance to get to know some of their fellow students, noted Ballard, especially those in different programs at the university. The gamut of majors represented among his travel companions on this trip range from biomedical majors to psychology and journalism.

One of the biomedical engineering majors is Lindsay Valentino, who hails from a suburb of Chicago.

It was worth it to pack up two vans and travel 1,000 miles from Illinois to Goldsboro -- and to donate a week of their Christmas vacation -- Ballard said.

"Everyone is super busy all the time, they have to be so focused on schoolwork all the time, so people who do have the desire to volunteer and help out in the community don't necessarily have the time to do it during the quarter," he said. "This is a really great opportunity to use that energy and desire to do an intensive program instead of an hour or two a week."

While the group will ultimately reunite after the break and reflect upon the experience, in the meantime, they pause at the end of each day to compare notes.

"We do what's called reflections -- sit around in a circle and talk about basically the day -- to help everyone think back on what we addressed and what we did during the day," Ms. Herder said. "It's really helpful to get that out. It just makes your experience that much fuller."

The students are staying at St. Paul United Methodist Church, with access to the Family YMCA for showers, Ms. Ray said.

"So we're getting a lot of good community support to be able to bring them in and host them and have them understand the needs of eastern N.C.," she said.