OSEMA students at work.

Sara Kim, a senior at Ithaca College, first began volunteering as a high school student through organizations such as National Honor Society and Key Club. After graduating from high school, she realized wanted to further her service involvement at Ithaca College. 

“Volunteering has always been something that I liked to do,” Kim said. “It first started off as giving me something that allowed me connect with the community, and once I realized the impact of it, I wanted it to become regularly a part of my life.”

She was able to do that through the various volunteer opportunities Ithaca College offers. 

Her first service opportunity at the college began with the Jumpstart program, which aims to help new students transition into their first year. Out of the four programs new students could choose from, Kim participated in the Community Plunge Jumpstart program. Community Plunge places participants in multiple volunteering sites around the Ithaca community to provide service, such as making wheelchair accessible nature trails and preparing lunches for senior citizen facilities, for local organizations.

“Jumpstart made me realize that volunteering was something I wanted to include in my career or somehow have it as a career path,” she said.  

Kim went on to become a Jumpstart leader for the Community Plunge during her sophomore and junior years. But, this is not the only form of volunteering she has done at Ithaca College. 

Many of her opportunities were provided by community service initiatives through the college’s Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs (OSEMA). These initiatives aim to “foster a lifelong commitment to civic responsibility,” “strengthen college-community relations” and “provide opportunities for active learning through collaboration.” 

Don Austin, the assistant director of community service for OSEMA, said these opportunities are created through Service Saturdays, alternative spring breaks and other general volunteering opportunities. 

“Volunteering is an important part of a college student’s learning experience. Whenever we enter our professional lives after college, we are forced with having to utilize a whole variety of skillsets that students can pick up through volunteering. Going into a community and providing service creates a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to expand their skillsets that is different than what they could find in the classroom,” Austin said. 

Ithaca College students consistently contribute over 1,700 volunteering hours per year. Austin advises around six service-related student organizations, and around 30 service-organizations exist on campus overall. Some of these organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and Ithaca College United Way, are college chapters of larger volunteer groups, but others were created by students interested in serving something specific to them.

Service Saturdays are held every month during the academic year. Students are taken to places either on or off campus for the day to volunteer in the Ithaca and Tompkins County community. The Service Saturday kick-off event will be held on Sept. 24 this year, a Saturday. Kim said she tries to participate in as many of these monthly events as she can. 

“Through Service Saturdays, I was able to incorporate volunteering and giving back to the community on a much more regular basis which was one of my goals coming out of high school,” Kim said. “I was able to understand Ithaca and its needs on a much deeper level. I saw a side of the city I wouldn’t have seen without going out and volunteering.” 

OSEMA’s volunteer opportunities are not limited to just the Ithaca area. 

Students are taken to sites throughout the U.S., including the Outer Banks and Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, for the alternative break program. These trips are held during fall and spring break as well as during the summer session. Austin said that students gain knowledge and skills during these trips that they bring back the campus and Ithaca community. 

“[Ithaca College] is a part of this community. We are not separated from it. We are not an enclave inside of another community. We’re an integral part of it,” Austin said. “In order for us to uphold our end of the bargain and uphold the space that we share, it’s important for students to give back to the community. A lot of organizations would not be able to do what they do without the support from Ithaca College students.” 

Those interested in finding a complete list of service organizations can search on OrgSync, the student engagement portal for campus organizations, with their college username and login. Students can also visit ithaca.edu/sacl/osema for more information. §

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