Homecoming volunteer project gets students involved in C-U community

The Quad was crowded by volunteers clad in orange and blue Friday afternoon, marking the sixth annual iHelp held by the Student Alumni Ambassadors, or SAA.

Students volunteered at locations all over Champaign-Urbana for three hours Friday, contributing about 4,000 hours of service in a single day. While the numbers are not yet exact, Mike Carter, the co-director of web and registration for iHelp and junior in ACES, approximated that about 1,350 participants actively volunteered during iHelp: A Homecoming Volunteer Project.

iHelp is a campus wide initiative in which students are given an opportunity to participate in community service throughout the surrounding areas of Champaign-Urbana. Dave Alter, vice president of service for SAA and senior in LAS, said this day was created to inspire students to get excited about community service and Homecoming.

“We want to show them that people don’t do this alone. If students volunteer with hundreds of other students, they can see it is fun and exciting,” Alter said.

First-time volunteer Lainey Pasternak, sophomore in ACES, said she was eager to go to Douglass Park to build a community garden during her three-hour volunteer shift.

“I’m happy that I could come this year and be around people who are excited about volunteering and can give me the motivation to continue volunteering throughout the school year,” Pasternak said.

Megan Polte, agency co-director for iHelp and sophomore in LAS, said responses like Pasternak’s are those that the organization is looking for.

“The idea of iHelp is to inspire University students to come out and unite together during this fun day of giving back, and to come back after and continue their service,” Polte said.

This year’s iHelp also focused on a stronger alumni component to the volunteering program.

“We really stressed it this year, to get the name out there and get the alumni to be aware of the Homecoming spirit and basically bring Homecoming to them, when they can’t come back to campus,” Adler said.

SAA encouraged alumni, wherever they may have been, to volunteer just like the students attending the University.

“We even have some alums volunteering around their homes in Barcelona, right now, helping get the U of I name out there in the name of service,” Polte said.

Matt Perez, senior in LAS, said he believes events like iHelp have lasting significance compared to the everyday social activities of college life.

“It’s good for awareness. It shows to the community that our students can give back and do more than just party, especially over Homecoming Weekend,” he said.

One of the agencies on the receiving end of this event was the campus Department of Facilities and Services.

Eliana Brown, Facilities and Services coordinator of special programs, said the department has been a part of the event since iHelp first started and plans on always coming back because of iHelp’s philosophy. Students helped Brown and her agency clean up the campus by picking up trash before it ends up in the sewage systems.

“It’s a phenomenal effort to see all these students come together to give their time to causes like ours and others around the community,” Brown said. “That act alone speaks so well of the students that attend the University.”