Stephanie Barry, '16, volunteers through the Community Service Office to help children at a local school on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. The Community Service Office volunteers every Friday to help the community in various ways.(Cal Portnoy/B&W Photo)

Community Service office relies on collaboration to organize events

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Lehigh’s Community Service Office, which functions mostly through the efforts of hundreds of Lehigh faculty, students and staff volunteers, achieves most of its goals to serve the community through partnerships with local organizations.

The office’s mission is to seek out the needs of the community and address them, while engaging students and building their character through service and building the university’s relationship with the surrounding South Bethlehem community.

Carolina Hernandez, the director of the Community Service Office, described the office’s work as completely collaborative in nature. Whether it’s the planning and work done between the directors and student in the office, the student coordinators allocating work to students who volunteer, or the partnerships between the coordinators and local organizations, every aspect of what the office does is an effort to seek out needs of the community and jointly address them.

“We’re very much need based when we reach out to community organizations,” said Kat Fletcher, ’16, a student coordinator from the office. “We go to where we’re actually going to make a difference.” 

By reaching out to different local communities and organizing different events, the office pays close attention to the specific needs of those organizations and the overall community, in order to make sure that the action the office takes directly addresses specific issues and maximizes their positive impact.

Through working with students in the local schools, Zach Brogie, ’17, a student coordinator, noticed how little access local students in South Bethlehem have to the outdoors and to experience nature. As a result, he put together a field trip for Broughal Middle School students to go to Jacobsburg Park with him and a few Lehigh student volunteers.

Lead by Hernandez; Kate Colyer, assistant director of community service; Leslie Ladick, coordinator for the community service office; and Katie Costello, graduate assistant of community service, the student coordinators take on much of the responsibility for planning different events. Of the 17 student coordinators, some are volunteer and some are paid through work-study positions. The commitment is at least five hours per week, though on weeks when there are events the time commitment grows immeasurably.

Hernandez and Colyer both noted the importance of the student coordinators and all the work they do to make all the events happen.

Stephanie Behrens, ’17, and Gabrielle Dardis, ’17, both got involved with office from the very beginning of their Lehigh experience, and started really taking on big planning responsibilities at the end of their sophomore years. They each are now in charge of an entire event each, as well as teaming with others to handle the largest events.

“I want to empower (the student staff),” Colyer said. “And I want them to learn important skills of how to engage with the community and also plan events. Our student staff is incredible and do so much. We couldn’t survive if we didn’t have all the wonderful students doing the hard work.” 

Colyer described the different events the CSO puts in terms of time commitment required of student volunteers. There are one-time, low-commitment events, in which students can participate in for a couple hours; longer immersion events, such as week long trips during winter and spring breaks; year-long commitments such as in-school and after-school tutoring in local schools; and the CSO’s more well-known flagship events such as Spring Fling and Spooktacular, which many on-campus organizations take part in.

One-time events which occur a couple times a semester are very open for any student who would be interested. Feel Good Fridays, Broughal Bowling Night, Parents’ Night Out and Victory House dinners are examples of a one-time event that students can simply sign up for any week they’d like to go, depending on their schedule.

Feel Good Fridays are trips to local nursing homes and daycare centers to end the week in service. Broughal Bowling Nights are educational bowling trips with local public school students while Parents’ Night Outs are opportunities for parents to drop their kids off at Lehigh’s campus to spend time with Lehigh students to have a night of fun and constructive activities. Victory House dinners are a chance for Lehigh students to make dinner at a local men’s shelter.

Immersion trips which are typically a week long are another kind of event in which students can participate in. Trips like SERVE, which go to other states for weeks at a time during Lehigh’s winter and spring breaks, are just one of the options. Students have the chance to immerse themselves in the service they are doing, by living for a week in the area in which they’re serving.

The year-long commitment service the office offers is mainly the tutoring program. Hernandez reports between 150 and 170 Lehigh students are involved in the program, which provides in-school and after-school tutoring for local public schools.

Flagship events are the biggest events held by the office, such as Spring Fling, Spooktacular and the Great South Side Sale, which many different organizations on campus come together to put on. These day-long events intend to benefit the immediate surrounding community.

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