Just like the university as a whole, ASU’s student community service programs have seen nothing but growth over the last five years.
The original program, Angelo Serves, launched in 2012 during Rambunctious Weekend, ASU’s fall semester “welcome back” event for students, and had over 300 participants. That lit a spark for Clint Havins, director of the Student Life Office.
“Students were like, ‘Hey, we need more of those,’” Havins explained. “So we started thinking of ways to give them more. We revamped the community service programs three years ago. When we started looking at it, we recognized there was a need because a lot of students were asking for volunteer opportunities, and really nothing existed that we were aware of.”
Since the launch of Angelo Serves, student community service opportunities have grown to include bi-annual, semester, bi-monthly and weekly volunteer programs.
Beyond Angelo and Project Spring Break each occur once a year during winter and spring break and take students outside San Angelo, most recently to New Orleans and Taos, N.M. Angelo Serves occurs once a semester and averages 100-300 students each time. While all the programs have seen growth and sustainability, the bi-monthly program, Students Who Serve, has seen the most significant change.
“Initially, it was one program a month,” Havins said. “We only did the fall and spring semesters in the beginning, then we moved through the summer, as well. We consistently averaged anywhere between 10 and 30 students, so we asked, ‘Why not do this bi-monthly?’”
“Going out and serving others is a great way to realize that the world is a little bit bigger than yourself. You really grow as a person when you are serving others.”
Leading the charge on the Students Who Serve program is Morgan Barker, a graduate student studying communication from Eldorado, and Nicole Mendez, a junior animal science major from Round Rock.
“The special thing about it is that students can serve with other students instead of going out by themselves,” Barker said. “It’s first and foremost about the serving the people we are there for, but it’s also about trying to provide a good experience for the students.”
Students Who Serve volunteers work with a variety of local nonprofit organizations, including the San Angelo Nature Center, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, Meals for the Elderly, Concho Valley Food Bank and S.A.F.E. Recycling. Transportation is provided to all events, and Barker and Mendez reach out to the organizations ahead of time to set up each project. Students just have to show up.
“I’ve always liked volunteering,” Mendez said. “I think it’s really fun. But I know one of the big problems for me was actually finding organizations to volunteer for and setting it up. We do that part for you. So this program gives students a chance to come with us, and I think that really helps with the anxiety people have.”
And while participation numbers have grown a little, it’s the sustainability with the program that is the most noticeable.
“This year we’ve seen that we have a lot of returning students,” Mendez said. “It’s really cool.”
“One thing we’ve tried to do is make it communal,” Barker added. “Because it’s definitely more than just going out and serving, but making friendships.”
In addition to all the benefits for the student volunteers, the community organizations reap the benefits, as well.
“I think it leaves a footprint on San Angelo,” Mendez said, “because most of us are only here for four years. We move on. This is almost our way of saying we are grateful to the community for being our home for these four years.”
Looking forward, Barker and Mendez are preparing for the next Project Spring Break trip and the spring Students Who Serve projects.
“I think it leaves a footprint on San Angelo. This is almost our way of saying we are grateful to the community for being our home for these four years.”
“Going out and serving others is a great way to realize that the world is a little bit bigger than yourself,” Barker said. “You really grow as a person when you are serving others.”
And the experience the students gain is just the icing on the cake.
“We could talk learning outcomes for a long time,” Havins said. “Outcomes such as personal development through teamwork and working with diverse populations, interpersonal competence through civic engagement and interdependence, and social responsibility exist.”
“We are taking people somewhere and they are making a difference,” he continued. “When students are out in the community in this capacity, they’re learning something. In essence, we’re wanting students to get connected so hopefully that helps them stay connected and, ultimately, graduate. Then, whenever they graduate, continuing to serve their communities is just something they do, because it’s certainly not a bad thing.”