Western Carolina University’s Staff Senate began a new community service push this year, and ended up exceeding its goals.
At the beginning of the 2018-19 senate year, the group decided to work on community service as a primary initiative, said Alison Joseph, a member of the staff in WCU’s Budget Office and incoming chair of Staff Senate. Leave-earning WCU employees are allocated 24 hours of paid community service leave each calendar year, but the majority of those hours expire unused. The members of Staff Senate wanted to encourage employees to engage in community service by utilizing those hours and working with local organizations that benefit from volunteer efforts, Joseph said.
Staff Senate established a new officer position, the community service liaison, to help organize and promote community service opportunities. Kaitlin Ritchie of WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services was elected the inaugural officer in that role (and she would go on to win the Meritorious Service Award from WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning for her success in that position). An initial goal was set to document 200 service hours generated by senators and through senate-promoted efforts during the year, Joseph said.
The senate surpassed that goal halfway through the year, and set a new benchmark of 400 hours. The group was able to meet that goal, counting 422 hours so far, with the senate year coming to a close this month. The senate also aspired to document 100 percent senator participation in service for the year and also was able to meet at goal, Joseph said.
Across campus as a whole, the community service provided by WCU's leave-earning faculty and staff has increased tenfold over the last decade, from fewer than 500 hours to nearly 5,000 hours in 2018, said Lane Perry, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. “One of the many positive signs of WCU’s commitment to community engagement is for everyone to be involved – for everyone to lend a hand, including community partners, students, faculty and, of course, staff,” he said. "This commitment is representative of who we are, collectively - those who serve, those who lead and those who give the best of themselves for the betterment of their communities and self."
Staff Senate service opportunities over the past year have benefited a variety of local organizations and initiatives, including the Community Table, Project CARE (building ramps for local citizens to improve home accessibility), Fairview Elementary School, the campus voting site, Cullowhee Community Garden, the WCU Earth Day celebration, Project FIRE (heating assistance for the elderly) and the university trail system. “We are grateful for the relationships developed with campus and community partners to work together to serve the region and help fulfill part of WCU's mission to serve and engage with the campus and surrounding communities," Ritchie said.
“Please remember that many local organizations need assistance, especially in the summer, when most student volunteers are away from campus,” Joseph said. Also, anyone interested in scheduling a group service opportunity or who has questions or suggestions should contact the senate at firstname.lastname@example.org.