The Corporation for National and Community Service named Union College to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll With Distinction for exemplary service efforts and service to disadvantaged youth.
"While it is nice for our campus to be recognized, the true measure of our success is found in the attitudes of Union College students," said David Smith, Union College president. "As our students discover the joy of service, they perpetuate their experience through leading and initiating opportunities for their peers to make a difference. We call it servant leadership, our students call it everyday life."
Launched in 2006, the Community Service Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement. Honorees for the award were chosen based on a series of selection factors including scope and innovativeness of service projects, percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service, and the extent to which the school offers academic service-learning courses.
At Union College, service begins within the first few weeks of school during Project Impact, one of (if not the) longest-running and largest collegiate community service events in the nation. From available research, no campus has a bigger event by percentage of students involved and few have as many total volunteers despite 10 to 20 times the enrollment. In 26 years, some 15,150 Union College students and employees have shared 99,000 volunteer hours at 75 agencies and other sites throughout Lincoln. In recent years, Union has averaged higher than 80 percent campus involvement. Participation is voluntary; attendance is not taken and there are no incentives other than a t-shirt, pizza and the joy of helping others.
Tasks include caring for the feet of the homeless at the Matt Talbot Soup Kitchen, distributing fliers and posters for the Alzheimer's Association and reading to children at public libraries. Volunteers at most sites have less contact with the end recipients of the services. Students and faculty cleaned, sorted, pulled weeds, mulched flowerbeds and did clerical work behind the scenes.
The spirit of volunteerism that has made Project Impact a success since 1981 continues throughout the year. Empowering students to carry out their ideas for service is the norm at Union College. Campus Ministries' dozens of programs—from religious services to wellness events and overseas volunteer activities to Project Impact—are entirely student-led.
Ann Bryant, Union College student chaplain and junior business major, says giving other students the power to lead is one of her favorite parts of the job. "I get to empower a lot of people. When I ask someone to lead a project and they worry about doing it correctly, I can tell them, 'It's all right. Do what you can and we'll figure out the best way to do it together.'"
Union students prepare meals for the homeless every Saturday at Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, one of the expressions of volunteerism honored by the community service award.
"College students like those at Union College are tackling the toughest problems in America, demonstrating their compassion, commitment, and creativity by serving as mentors, tutors, health workers, and even engineers," said David Eisner, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. "They represent a renewed spirit of civic engagement fostered by outstanding leadership on caring campuses."
The Honor Roll is jointly sponsored by the Corporation, through its Learn and Serve America program, and the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, USA Freedom Corps, and the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation.
In congratulating the winners, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said, "Americans rely on our higher education system to prepare students for citizenship and the workforce. We look to institutions like these to provide leadership in partnering with local schools to shape the civic, democratic and economic future of our country."
Overall, the Community Service Honor Roll awarded six schools with Presidential Awards. In addition, four schools were recognized as Special Achievement Award winners, 127 as Honor Roll With Distinction members and 391 schools as Honor Roll members. In total, 528 schools were recognized. A full list is available at www.nationalservice.gov/honorroll.
"There is no question that the universities and colleges who have made an effort to participate and win the Honor Roll award are themselves being rewarded," said American Council on Education President David Ward. "Earning this distinction is not easy. But now each of these schools will be able to wear this award like a badge of honor."
The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. The Corporation administers Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America, a program that supports service-learning in schools, institutions of higher education and community-based organizations. For more information, go to http://www.nationalservice.gov.