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Service to Others Brings National Recognition to WCU Plus, Reflections of a 2013 Alternative Spring Break

For the eighth consecutive year, West Chester University's student volunteers have ensured the University a place on the prestigious President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

The Corporation for National and Community Service annually names universities to the Honor Roll to recognize institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in their communities. In the 2011-2012 academic year, West Chester students performed 344,603 hours of service to area organizations, schools, communities and individuals.

One of the many ways West Chester students volunteer is by spending their spring break week helping others. This year, 20 students accompanied Jodi Roth, WCU's Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs director, to Staten Island, N.Y., to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The group worked with The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and Guyon Rescue to install insulation and drywall in the home of an elderly woman who'd lost her husband only a few weeks before Sandy hit. They stocked shelves at a food pantry and processed intake forms. They removed trash and debris, and were saddened at the personal nature of ruined items such as photo albums.

Senior communication studies major Carly Mitchell (Lancaster, Pa.), whose minor is Latin American studies, said she learned as much about herself as she did about the shattered Staten Island community, including "how I can use my strengths to be of service in my community and abroad and what it means to be an active citizen."

The indirect benefits derived from an engaged group of volunteers - such as spending money in the community while they were there - struck Mark Fala (Havertown, Pa.), a sophomore transfer student majoring in accounting and finance. "While we were out to dinner one night, our server told us how she had been affected by the storm and thanked us for all of our hard work. … Our efforts were truly being appreciated throughout the Staten Island community."

Ryan Mennor (Lionville, Pa.), a sophomore studying criminal justice, said that despite not knowing each other prior to the trip, the group jelled. "None of us had any ties or any stake in the communities that we were helping, but every morning, everyone woke up excited about the day and the work we had ahead of us. Everyone gave it 110 percent."

"We began our service trip as 21 strangers who thought our only similarities were that we went to West Chester University and we wanted to do something more than relax at home during spring break," added trip co-leader Melissa Christie (Lancaster, Pa.), a second-year communicative disorders major with minors in Spanish and linguistics. "We ended our week together realizing we were a family, striving to change at least a small piece of the world."

Their efforts - no matter how small or brief - mattered, she continued. The pastor of New Dorp Mennonite Church, which housed the group for the week, reminded the students of the parable of the starfish, where two people are on a beach littered with starfish stranded at high tide. One person returns the creatures to the ocean while the other remarks on how many there are and how long the beach stretches, saying, "You can't possibly save them all. What will it matter?" The other person picks up another starfish, tosses it into the sea and replies, "It matters to this one."

"The whole week we were touched by this story," Christie recalled, "and no matter how we felt following our work days we knew our service touched at least one person."

"Words barely give this trip justice," said Fran Cintorrino (Hillsborough, N.J.), co-leader of the trip and president of the Abbés student service society. A senior psychology major with a communication studies minor, Cintorrino said the group stopped at Guyon Rescue on their final day in Staten Island. "One of the full time volunteers there gave myself and Melissa Christie a big hug and told us that we were some of the best student volunteers she has ever worked with. At that point, I was the most proud I've ever been to be a student - and soon a graduate - of West Chester University."

More on WCU's volunteers and service learning can be found here.