Volunteers find outlets for efforts

By David Valdes

Some University students are finding that volunteer work is a perfect way to spend some free time to get rid of the stress from classes, for personal satisfaction of helping people or just a way of getting involved and giving back to the community.

Joann Merritello, freshman in LAS, lives a busy life. Aside from homework and playing in the Illini Strings Orchestra, she enjoys volunteering.

“I thought it would be good to give back to others,” said Merritello, explaining her involvement as a scorecard flipper at a recent wheelchair basketball game.

“I thought it would be a good idea to volunteer, especially because it was something easy and I had a really good time,” she said. “It wasn’t a long amount of time, but it made a huge difference to the people running the wheelchair basketball tournament. It helped me see that something small can mean the world to someone else.”

Just like Merritello, Stu Schaff, sophomore in commerce, was in search of opportunities to lend his services to the community. Schaff took the initiative to begin his own registered organization, the Illini Mentor Program.

Schaff, the president of the program, said he was inspired to start the organization by his seven years of working at summer day camps and by his service work for a Psychology 100 course at the University.

“I absolutely loved the (Psychology 100 volunteering) experience and couldn’t wait to get out every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon,” Schaff said. “After the class was over in May, I wanted to continue working with these kids as well as share my experience with others.”

“The Illini Mentor Program acts as a liaison between the organizations dealing with children in Champaign-Urbana and the students of the University of Illinois,” he said.

Currently, the program is working with the Don Moyers Boys and Girls Club in Champaign. Schaff said his vision for the Illini Mentors Program is to start small and try to set up one-on-one relationships between mentors and children.

“Sure, I’ve had a few jobs,” Schaff said. “But none have been as truly satisfying as the volunteer work that I’ve done.”

According to Staci Provezis, graduate assistant for the University’s Office of Volunteer Programs (OVP), the OVP is a resource for all students looking for volunteer opportunities.

“We help the students find out about the programs and they can then contact the agencies,” said Provezis, who defines OVP’s role as a link between students and volunteer opportunities. “A lot of students come to us and ask what’s going on in the community.”

Provezis said students can use the OVP as a resource in one of a few ways. They can become a part of Listserv, a mailing list operated by the OVP. Provezis said that an e-mail goes out every Tuesday to about 3,500 students, and that the weekly list includes eight to 10 opportunities to volunteer.

Some examples of volunteer opportunities on this week’s listserv include a Read Across America event and the Carrie Busey Elementary School Carnival. Provezis said students are also encouraged to visit the OVP office in the Registered Student Organizations complex at room 277 in the Illini Union.