November 12, 2016
The season of giving seems to begin earlier every year, but the West Chester University community has never let a calendar dictate when to give. Serving communities both near and far is part of WCU's culture.
Between service learning coursework and volunteer activities conducted by campus organizations, WCU students annually donate incredible amounts of their time and energy -- more than 812,000 service hours through coursework and an additional 93,114 hours of service through co-curricular efforts just in the 2014-15 academic year.
Students track their hours through the University's Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs (OSLVP), led by Jodi Roth-Saks since 2012. OSLVP promotes community-based learning experiences that address community needs by building mutually beneficial partnerships between agencies and student organizations as well as faculty who want to incorporate service learning into their coursework.
This year, OSLVP is hosting an AmeriCorps PACC*VISTA position, funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Campus Compact (PACC) and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Only 24 Pennsylvania schools were selected through this federal grant process.
Dylan Lahm serves in the role, coordinating the America Reads program, which pairs college students with disadvantaged youth to provide the individualized attention needed to enhance academic enrichment. He earned his bachelor in political science and history from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown this spring and joined OSLVP in July. He recruits, trains and provides additional support and professional development opportunities to WCU students serving as mentors in America Reads, which not only reduces the effects of poverty by building literacy and academic goals, but also empowers the community agencies serving disadvantaged youth.
Launched in spring 2013, WCU's America Reads program partners with the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center's New Directions Elementary and Middle School programs; YMCA Oscar Lasko Youth Program Center's Childcare Early Learning Center and Believe & Achieve program; West Chester Area Day Care Center; and Blessed Dorothy Day Ministry Center. With nearly 50 volunteers and federal work-study student mentors, it gives children opportunities to engage in one-on-one tutoring, team sports, cooking workshops and other hands-on activities.
These relationships are also mutually beneficial for the WCU students, many of whom are from underrepresented groups. As part of the program, they have access to additional career development resources and other training plus financial aid (if qualified).
The community partners support WCU students by helping them expand their horizons and resumes with a rewarding work experience, Lahm adds. "The partners help our students grow and evolve as individuals. Most of them have never been in a position like [this and it] gives them an opportunity to develop and enhance skills that they did not previously know they had."
For more information about OSLVP or to support its programs, visit the Service-Learning & Volunteer Programs website.
One iconic WCU philanthropic event that is calendar-based is the Bear Fair, now in its 19th year. Every November, students collect new teddy bears that are destined for children in hospitals or shelters, or those who might not otherwise receive toys due to their families' economic hardships.
Bear Fair is now using an "adopt-an-agency" model so that donors can select a specific agency from the list of participating organizations, all of whom have posted the number of bears they'd like to receive. The model aims to strengthen the connection between WCU and community partners and expand students' leadership opportunities.
OSLVP graduate assistant Jessica McCoppin '15 is Bear Fair's point person. "For me," she says, "the Bear Fair is a heartwarming opportunity to see the WCU student body and surrounding community come together to support children in need in our area. Service is front and center [during the holidays], but my position allows me to see that for WCU students, service never seems to stop."
There is a collection bin at OSLVP in Lawrence 241. Monetary donations are also accepted; make checks payable to "SSI 380 Bear Fair." For more information, contact Jessica McCoppin at 610-436-3379.