Gaining experience by giving back to the South Side


Alexis Hampton, ‘23, 25G, has found confidence in her leadership abilities by volunteering in the South Side community through tutoring and community-based events.

Lehigh’s Community Service Office offers her and many other students an array of events and programs to explore different community service initiatives both on and off campus.

Some service opportunities are recurring, such as tutoring events with Broughal Middle School, Donegan Elementary and Fountain Hill Elementary. Lehigh students can choose to tutor students during the school day or participate in the after-school Homework Club program.

The Homework Club and tutoring programs are part of America Reads America Counts, which works to boost students’ proficiency in reading and math.

According to Lehigh’s webpage for the program, 169 students spent 10,728 total hours tutoring in the Bethlehem community last semester. As a result, 84% of South Side teachers say their tutor was a positive role model for their students.

Ashley Sciora, the associate director of the Community Service Office, said across the three schools they serve, the Homework Club pairs Lehigh students with about 40 middle school students and 35 elementary school students to assist with homework and other assignments after school.

She said they try to maintain a 1:2, or ideally a 1:1 tutor-to-student ratio.

“For us, that individual relationship is really important,” Sciora said. “It’s not just about the academic support, but the connection — the fact that they think (Lehigh students) are the coolest people they know, and it’s also that college access piece.”

Sciora said young students’ ability to connect with college students starts conversations about higher education.

Sophia Merlino, ‘27, works as a tutor under the America Reads America Counts program during the day.

She said tutors can be paired in classes of varying ages, but she spends every Tuesday and Thursday morning in a kindergarten classroom at Donegan Elementary.

The Lehigh University football team plays tug-of-war with Broughal Middle School students. The Community Service Office (CSO) offers many service opportunities for Lehigh students at local middle schools. (Courtesy of CSO)

She said her position is similar to a teacher’s assistant. She keeps students focused and assists in educational activities like handwriting practice and making letters out of Play-Doh.

Merlino said she wants to work in education one day, so she signed up for the program as a way to get practice helping in a classroom and involve herself in the South Side community.

“(The students) get super excited about being able to do something themselves and see their own progress,” she said.

Once or twice a semester, Hampton said the office hosts an event called Kids Night Out that brings together students and tutors from the Homework Club. Tutors are paired with a student and spend the night completing activities, playing themed games and eating food.

This event, she said, aims to provide South Side children with an exciting and interactive event outside of the school day, given many of them are impacted by difficult home lives. It also provides caregivers with the ability to take a night for themselves.

The office also offers opportunities for volunteers to work with older members of the South Side community through the Victory House.

Sciora said the Victory House, a shelter in Bethlehem that services homeless veterans and other homeless men, is also frequented weekly by five student volunteers who prepare and serve a meal of their choice.

The menu, as well as the group of volunteers and student coordinators, is different every week. Sciora said participation is based on sign-ups which can be made at any time.

Sciora said there are many ways to get involved each semester, depending on students’ specific interests.

“Our goal is always to make sure that folks are connecting through an issue or through a topic that they feel particularly passionately about,” Sciora said.

Other than volunteering with the Homework Club and Victory House, Sciora said there are many leadership opportunities available over the course of a student’s four years at Lehigh.

She said student coordinators are provided with a comprehensive four-year growth and development plan if they join the Community Service Office as a first-year student. She wants people to gain valuable volunteer experiences and learn to construct and implement events successfully.

Hampton said she has impacted and been personally impacted by the community around her by being a student coordinator for the office — throughout her four years of undergraduate education and continues her work now as a graduate assistant.

“You’re making sure these people who are coming from a million different walks of life get to integrate themselves beautifully into the South Bethlehem community — and do so respectfully, with integrity and purpose,” Hampton said.

She said the office hosts many volunteers from sororities and fraternities because volunteer work is a core tenet of Greek life and members must log a certain number of community service hours.

Hailey Queler, ‘25, the philanthropy chair of Alpha Omicron Pi, said each member must complete at least four community service hours each semester on top of sorority philanthropy events.

“We wanted to implement that four-hour rule because we want to acknowledge how much service each (woman) does on her own,” Queler said. “So why not try to push ourselves, make new goals and reach more hours?”

Queler said each sorority sister had already surpassed the four-hour minimum two months into the semester. She said sisters in her sorority group chat also consistently share more opportunities to give back to the community.

This semester, she said they handed out candy to children during Spooktacular, an annual Halloween-themed event where a variety of campus organizations plan activities for local children. The sisterhood also created snack bags for the Homework Club and cooked dinners for the Victory House.

Hampton said she has had many impactful experiences in her time volunteering around Bethlehem and in other communities.

During winter break of her first year, she said she contributed to an experience that left her feeling grounded and in tune with her goals. The yearly program she participated in is led by a separate organization called LeaderShape and allows students to go to other communities and work on their leadership abilities.

According to the LeaderShape Institute at Lehigh, the program is a four-day experience that challenges participants to explore identity development and inclusive leadership. Students can apply online and must pay a fee of $50 if selected.

“It’s an amazing time for Lehigh students to really hone in on what they want out of their Lehigh experience and make sure that their time here at Lehigh is impactful for themselves as well as the communities they see themselves being involved in,” Hampton said.

For students looking to learn about more and for opportunities to get involved, the Community Service Office’s newsletter, the Pathway to Service, offers a weekly overview of upcoming events. The physical office is located in Christmas-Saucon Hall 104, with student workers ready to help students help others.

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