Willimantic, Conn. – For the fifth time in the past six years, President Obama has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University for its community service and engagement work. This December, Eastern was again named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
Since 2006, the CNCS has recognized institutions of higher education with exemplary community service programs that have measurable outcomes and develop campus-community partnerships.
“Community service has always been a hallmark at Eastern,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Over the years, and since the creation of the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) in 2009, our commitment to service and ties to the Willimantic community have only grown. To again be recognized by President Obama as a university that exemplifies such service is something that everyone on our campus is proud of.”
In the past year, nearly 2,800 students completed approximately 158,000 hours of community service in a variety of capacities. “In providing thousands of hours of service a year to dozens of social agencies and nonprofits, Eastern students are demonstrating their social responsibility while learning valuable professional and organizational skills,” said Núñez.
Eastern’s service work is facilitated through the CCE as well as through student-run clubs and academic departments. “Eastern has a firm commitment to creating engagement opportunities that enhance the learning experience of our students while striving to be a key partner in addressing the issues affecting our nation, state and local community,” said Kim Silcox, director of the CCE.
Students actively volunteer at a number of local organizations, including Windham Public Schools, Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), Covenant Soup Kitchen, Windham No Freeze Shelter and others. Student clubs such as Best Buddies, People Helping People and Habitat for Humanity dedicate manpower and fundraising efforts to a number of causes within and beyond Willimantic. Faculty in the business, sociology, education and other departments also assign “service learning” projects that are mutually beneficial to students and the community. Many students spend their spring breaks volunteering in service trips called “alternative breaks.”
Numerous community events and programs are organized by Eastern as well. “These programs provide our students with opportunities to dig deeply into community issues and needs, while developing their skills in leadership, public speaking, organization and civic responsibility,” said Silcox.
Some of the more popular programs, which have become fixtures in the Willimantic community, include the annual “Day of Giving,” a dinner that feeds between 400 and 500 community members the day before Thanksgiving; “Puentes al Futuro” (Bridges to the Future), an afterschool and summer mentoring program for English language learners; “Town Pride, Town Wide,” a cleanup and beautification event held throughout Willimantic; the annual “Health, Wellness and Benefits Expo,” which brings numerous health-related organizations under one roof for the public’s browsing; VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program for lower income households; and more. Numerous food drives, fundraisers and blood drives occur every year as well.
“To be named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll is possible due to the support and involvement of our students, staff, faculty and our partners in Windham,” said Silcox. “We look forward to continuing to support our local communities and engaging our students through sustainable and productive relationships with our dedicated community partners.”
In describing the scale of service work completed by colleges across the country, the CNCS wrote, “College students make a significant contribution to their communities through volunteering and service, according to the most recent report of ‘Volunteering and Civic Life in America.’ In 2012, 3.1 million college students dedicated more than 118 million hours of service across the country — a contribution valued at $2.5 billion.”
The CNCS oversees the honor roll in collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, Campus Compact and the American Council on Education. Honorees are chosen based on a series of selection factors, including the scope and innovation of service projects, the extent to which service-learning is embedded in the curriculum, the school’s commitment to long-term campus-community partnerships and measurable community outcomes as a result of the service.