Sarah Reder

Unemployment is on the rise, budgets are pinched and the evening news paints dire scenes of life in a recession. Community charities need help maybe now more than in past years.

How have you helped recently? Whether you’re a member of a Greek organization, donated a dollar at Shriver or are directly involved in a religious or community service organization, you’ve probably done something to help – maybe without realizing it.

The number of people volunteering in Ohio has decreased with the declining economy.

Clyde Brown, professor of political science, conducted a study about volunteering in the Ohio area.

In May 2009, Miami University researchers analyzed survey results from more than 400 Ohioans and almost 4,000 others around the world. The online survey asked participants to gauge their level of volunteerism during the past year. What they found, among other things, was that volunteering tends to take a hit during economic recessions.

“Eighty percent of Ohioans surveyed say they have cut back on time spent volunteering, participating in groups, and performing other civic activities in their communities during the past year while the economy was shrinking,” Brown said. “This does not mean that four-fifths of our citizens have stopped participating; it means they are participating less, and thus our civic capacity has significantly declined.”

Despite study results and hectic schedules, Miami University students find the time to serve their communities.

The golden rule

Senior mechanical engineering major Leah West has been volunteering since her first-year at Miami, when she joined Kappa Phi Christian Service Sisterhood.

“My first year in Kappa Phi I had a chance to do a service project, and I loved seeing how much I could do to make a better life for someone else,” West said.

Since then, West has continued volunteering with Kappa Phi and sought other volunteer opportunities around campus. This year, she acts as the service chair for the sisterhood and has worked to make service a priority in her chapter. West said the group completes a service project each month.

“This year, we’ve been actively giving contributions to other organizations like Box Tops for Education and pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House,” West said. “We’ve taken trips to Ronald McDonald House and to Animal Adoption Foundation and the food pantry in Oxford.”

Kappa Phi will also be participating in Relay for Life this spring, West said.

West said religion is part of the reason she volunteers.

“God sent us to be servants and what better way to do that than to serve others,” West said.

West said she believes volunteering in small towns like Oxford often gets overlooked in comparison to larger cities with more homeless people.

“People don’t always realize that Oxford is home to similar people,” West said.

West acknowledged the time constraint of the typical college student’s life.

“I think college students have a hard time budgeting their time appropriately and therefore service takes a back seat to other things that students find more fun,” West said. “I’ve found that nothing can be more fun than spending time with your best friends serving others.”

The social worker

Junior Danielle Reynolds, a social work major, works as a service guide at Hanna House, also known as the Office of Student Engagement. Reynolds plans to use her volunteer experience in her future career.

“Basically people come to the Hanna House telling us that they want to volunteer and we find a place for them in one of our service agencies,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she is in charge of any student volunteers who are assigned to either of the two agencies she works with: Serve City in Hamilton and the Hope House in Middletown.

Reynolds said that Hanna House recently saw its largest annual volunteer day.

“Martin Luther King Day was huge for us,” Reynolds said. “We had close to 100 volunteers who went to a total of 10 agencies.”

As part of their work on MLK Jr. Day, Reynolds and other volunteers worked at Serve City, a Hamilton facility that provides clothes, furniture and gently used items to disadvantaged residents in the area.

“We spent hours sorting garbage bags full of clothing for folks in need,” Reynolds said.

Despite the big turn-out MLK Jr. Day, Reynolds sometimes find it hard to recruit volunteers.

“It’s hard to get people to volunteer for the first time, but once they do it they want to keep doing it again and again,” Reynolds said.”People just need to realize that there is something for everyone.”

The teacher

Senior Kristen Swiner, a late childhood education major, found out about Miami’s Adopt-A-School program during her first year. Participants of Adopt-A-School travel to schools and organizations within Butler County to tutor children in a variety of academic subjects.

Swiner described how she first became involved with the Adopt-A-School Program.

“A friend of mine in my dorm had me go to an informational meeting with her,” Swiner said.

Swiner said she always knew she wanted to volunteer with either Adopt-A-School or the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program, Miami University’s mentoring program that pairs students with underprivileged children in the Butler County area.

For Swiner, Adopt-A-School was the more appealing of the two. Swiner said she went to Living Waters Ministry with the Adopt-A-School program for two years and then started going to Over the Rhine in downtown Cincinnati last year.

At Living Waters, Swiner would spend one afternoon each week helping children with their schoolwork. Swiner said she did the same at Over the Rhine but at a greater capacity.

“Over the Rhine really brought me out of my comfort zone because I tutored both adults and children,” Swiner said. “Volunteering has been a big part of why I love college.”