It's a chilly Saturday morning, with a stiff
breeze and intervals of freezing rain. Despite the weather, some 200
RIT students have gathered on a hillside several miles from campus to
create the setting for a Halloween event for youngsters from Hillside
Children's Center. They clear brush. They stuff scarecrows. They weave
giant spider webs.
"All these people could have slept in," notes Dan Lerner of the RIT
chapter of Phi Sigma Pi, whose organization rallied a squad of 35 for
the Make-a-Difference Day work party. "But we're in Rochester. We want
to be part of the community."
"We work with more than 90 agencies on a regular basis," notes Tracey
Hamner Karl, RIT's community service coordinator. Karl '00 (social work)
was instrumental in establishing the four-year-old Student Volunteer
Center. Created as a liaison between agencies in need of help and people
willing to pitch in, the center coordinates dozens of activities involving
hundreds of participants every month. The center's monthly newsletter,
which lists volunteer opportunities, circulates to 1,500.
RIT's Greek organizations are deeply involved in volunteer efforts.
Last year, RIT fraternities and sororities contributed 15,423 hours
of service and raised $37,500 for charities.
The 48 members of Phi Kappa Psi, for instance, typically log 1,500
to 1,800 volunteer hours per quarter, says James Milholland, a fifth-year
physics major. Efforts include an annual dodgeball tournament organized
to raise money for children who are victims of alcoholism. "We have
won awards for philanthropy," Milholland explains. "Our fraternity was
founded on the great joy of serving others, and we try to uphold that
belief on a local level as well as nationally."
Outside of the Greek community, many of RIT's 118 clubs are involved
in community service. Notable is the Habitat for Humanity Club, which
lists 150 to 200 members and can readily round up 25 to 50 for weekend
work sessions. Founded in 1999, the club has worked on many homes in
and outside of Rochester.
"I really, really enjoy this," says Kyle Platek, a third year civil
engineering technology major and coordinator of the organization.
RIT students don't wait to be asked - they go in search of ways to
Jason Schwingle '00 recruited fellow College of Business students to
work with the Volunteers of American Children's Center, a daycare provider
for more than 250 youngsters in central Rochester.
"I loved the kids," he says. "It was definitely, positively rewarding."
Staff at the center are delighted with the connection.
"The RIT volunteers are so interactive with our kids," says Jessica
Thomas, coordinator of parent and community involvement. "It's wonderful
for our kids to have positive role models, especially males."
Geoff Irwin, a third-year management information services major, has
picked up the project from Schwingle. "It's just so much fun," he says.
"When I go there, it's a relief from stress for me. I get to be a 5-year-old
again," says Irwin. "Volunteering is something you do for yourself,
I think, as well as for the community."
Faculty, staff and students of the College of Liberal Arts agree. Last
fall, the college launched an effort with Rochester City School District's
School 36 to provide after-school activities that encourage above-average
students to learn outside the regular classroom.
"It's hard to say who benefits more," says Dean Andrew Moore, "the
School 36 students or the RIT volunteers.
Alpha Mu brothers Ray Winter, left, and Paul Chevrette sat in a
box on top of a 40-foot-pole for the fraternitys seventh annual
pole sit fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"As a suburban campus," he continues, "we tend to be rather insulated.
Programs like this help us understand the community, and also allow
people to learn about RIT."
RIT staff and faculty also support the community through gifts of time
and resources. University employees have generously supported the United
Way campaign; in 2001, RIT tallied a record high of $269,188 and, for
the seventh year, earned an Award of Excellence from the United Way
of Greater Rochester. With the help of many from the RIT community,
the university hosts track and field events for Monroe County Special
Olympics each summer. Faculty, staff and students roll up their sleeves
for Red Cross blood drives four times a year.
One of the oldest and warmest community connections is with the Arc
of Monroe County. In the late 1970s, RIT became an employer of Arc of
Monroe clients - people with developmental disabilities - through a
"It was highly successful," recalls James Papero, wellness and recreation
coordinator. "Then we got the idea for a summer enrichment program."
Each June, 30 Arc of Monroe clients come to RIT for a week of classes
in everything from yoga to photography to computers. Since the program
began in 1991, more than 100 faculty, staff and students have volunteered.
The special students stay in the dorms and graduate in caps and gowns.
"It's a wonderful experience for people who would never have a chance
to be on a college campus," says James Mroczek, president of Arc of
Monroe. "RIT was our employer of the year long before it was fashionable
to work with people with disabilities.
"There's no other college that has been so responsive, so involved.
I could write a book about all the things RIT has done for us."