Students doing well at doing good



By Brittney Foreman

With studying, holding down a job and finding time to hang with friends, a student’s life may seem to only revolve around succeeding in college, paying for tuition and having fun.

However, some University students still find the time to make others happy, too.

Community building

Amy Sponsler, director of the Office of Volunteer Programs, said this past academic year University students volunteered close to 90,000 hours in the Champaign-Urbana community.

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    “Sometimes I think my life is bad but I know that there are people in worse positions than myself,” said Michael Rettig, senior in LAS. “Just by volunteering I can alleviate some of those bad things.”

    Rettig, who has previously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, has been working with the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum at its Camp Invention.

    “It makes me feel good that I gave some of my free time to help other people and not just spend it going out, watching TV, playing video games or something like that,” Rettig said.

    Sponsler said she wouldn’t want to ignore all of the students who have been giving of their time.

    “I feel like students have accomplished a lot,” Sponsler said. “I think the 90,000 hours that students are contributing in over 100 agencies in Champaign-Urbana is amazing.”

    Meadow Jones, volunteer coordinator intern for the Orpheum, said the non-profit museum depends on volunteers and she’s really excited that University students have been contacting her.

    The Orpheum’s science camps promote scientific literacy for children. Jones said she realized the importance of scientific literacy when she was a student at Parkland years ago.

    “If we are to have a true democracy, we need an educated population and that (includes) scientific education,” she said.

    Jones also said it is important to give back because each person can give a unique contribution to change the world.

    One way the Orpheum gets the word out about its volunteer opportunities is through the Office of Volunteer Programs’ Web site.

    Besides the many opportunities in Champaign county to make a difference, students do little things right here on campus.

    The little things

    During a 2 a.m. conversation at IHOP three years ago, two University students, sensing the negativity that sometimes floats around campus, decided to start an organization that would glorify the little things in life and break social norms.

    They decided the club would focus on being nice to people with a “pay it forward” idea.

    “If you make someone’s day good, they might unexpectedly help someone pick up their papers,” co-founder Casey Best, University alumnus and former Illini Media Co. employee, said.

    He said brightening someone’s day would be better than making someone angry and having that person later blow up at someone else.

    “It was kind of like passing good moods along,” he said.

    Best said Christopher Earnhart called him the next day and told him he had turned in papers to become a registered student organization. That next semester, the Positive Event Chain club was on the Quad passing out fliers.

    At their first meeting 50 people showed up.

    “Every step of the way we were like, ‘this is so cool, I can’t believe (we’re) doing this,'” Best said.

    Even though the number of members eventually leveled out to about 15, Best said those members didn’t need extra motivation to participate.

    The group did little things like playing four square with students in front of the Union, letting people walk and ride their bikes over bubble wrap and giving out hot chocolate.

    “A lot of organizations do that and we had a harder time convincing people we were just being nice and not trying to open people’s ideas to some new religion with hot chocolate,” Best said.

    Best said when they wrote compliments for people, they would write it as they walked by and then chase after them to give it to them.

    “And again, people would be like I don’t wanna (read) anything, like we were gonna be like, ‘turn vegan,'” he said.

    Still, afterward came the payoff.

    “We’d give it to them, they’d keep it in their fists like they were too cool to read it … keep walking, read it and turn around with an awesome grin that was always cool.”

    Best said the goal of the organization wasn’t long-term social change.

    “We recognized that any effect we would have would be completely invisible to us,” Best said.

    Sometimes, a little goes a long way

    The members of Positive Event Chain did get hints.

    Best said he went into a student’s room and saw one of the group’s compliments tacked to a bulletin board. He also said one student said she came to the University because the group gave her whole walking tour group hugs.

    Since the purpose of Positive Event Chain is to open people’s eyes to the little things, what are the little things?

    “The sounds that people love, watching people laugh on the Quad,” Best said. “I don’t know, it depends on who you are. The stuff that you can enjoy about being alive.”

    Best, who is currently training for Americorps, a national service organization, said the group has made him a different person.

    “I was too cynical when I came to college for an organization like Americorps,” Best said. “This club was just a way to get outside of that.”

    Best hopes the group will become a mainstay on the University campus, just like any other campus tradition.

    Co-president of Positive Event Chain Ryan Freeberg said he wants the club to branch out this year.

    He hopes to work with I-help and cross paths with the Office of Volunteer Programs, and crossing paths is something they’ve already done.

    Last year the group entertained pedestrians at the intersection of Green and Wright Streets.

    “As the timer counts down, once it hits 10, we start counting down like it’s the New Year,” said Freeberg, senior in Engineering. “When it gets to zero, then we celebrate.”

    He said to celebrate they used noisemakers.

    “Some people thought it was funny and laughed and cheered along with us,” Freeberg said. “Some people looked at us confused, not quite sure what was happening.”

    Freeberg said those were the only two reactions they got.

    “No one was mad,” he said.

    Freeberg said the point of the club was to be a chain of positive events, hence its name.

    Like Best, Freeberg said the group does things for people in hopes they’ll turn around and be nice to someone else.

    “The longer the chain goes, the more happy people you have,” Freeberg said.