Bennion Center facilitates connection to community

By Christine Tobolski, Public Relations Coordinator for the Bennion Community Service Center

The Bennion Community Service Center fosters lifelong service and civic participation by connecting the U with the surrounding community in action, change and learning. Each year, more than 6,300 students, staff, faculty and alumni provide more than 195,000 hours of service with community and nonprofit organizations through direct volunteer work and service-learning opportunities.

Standing as a nationwide trend among college students, it’s almost the norm for students to be involved in service either in their own communities or abroad.

Departments such as the Bennion Center, the Thayne Center at Salt Lake Community College and the Community Involvement Center at Weber State are just a few of the organizations that help facilitate opportunities for students to be involved in service and, in turn, help transform these students into civically engaged leaders of our future.

Why are students so interested in service? Some students are looking to find a niche in their community. There is no better way to integrate into a new city or school than to serve in that community or campus. Other students are looking to gain experience or develop leadership skills. Some students get involved to enhance their résumés or because it is a requirement of graduate school.

There are other students who serve because they feel it is an inherent duty. They feel a personal responsibility to help out wherever they are able.

As one Bennion Center student leader said, “I’ve been given so much in my life. It would just be selfish of me to not give back.”

Some students have at one point or another been on the receiving end of service and understand the value of giving back to their community and know that a single person truly can change the lives of others.

To meet the demands of a diverse population interested in a variety of topics, the Bennion Center facilitates more than 55 volunteer programs that deal with issues such as health, ability, education, advocacy, social justice and the environment. The center is also the home of a nationally recognized service-learning program that coordinates with departments across campus and in to many local communities.

After every Bennion Center project, to maximize the learning experience, volunteers are guided through a reflection process where they think deeply about the service they provided and its impact on the community and themselves. The reflection activities deepen the educational ties between the direct service students participate in and the reasons why particular issues exist.

With classes, a career and family to worry about, it can become difficult to find time to serve. To help alleviate the stress, the Bennion Center offers financial support to individuals who devote time and energy to community service and leadership.

The Bennion Center also organizes monthly service projects on the third Saturday of each month during the academic school year, including the upcoming 6th Annual Legacy of Lowell Community Service Day on Sept. 19.

The Legacy of Lowell Community Service Day serves as the kick off to the 2009 U Homecoming Week and the Bennion Center is expecting hundreds of students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends of the U to join together in service that day. There will be seven service projects for volunteers to participate in, ranging from ecological restoration at Bend-in-the-River, to literacy book fairs at Title-I schools, to home improvement projects in west-side communities and more. Additional information can be found at www.bennioncenter.org/legacyoflowell.htm.

Volunteers aren’t the only ones who receive while serving. One Bennion Center student said, “I believe service is done in an effort to teach students at the U the importance of selfless service and to learn to incorporate kindness into our careers, communities and lifestyles.”

Through service, students develop leadership skills, gain a deeper understanding of community needs and broaden their world views.

If you’re not already involved in service, I recommend you give it a try.

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