Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only holiday nationally recognized as a day of service. But at Elon University, Mary Morrison, director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, strives to encourage students to serve year-round.

Morrison said she wants to establish a lasting bond between students and the Elon community. 

“We are looking for ways to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and homelessness and bad education,” Morrison said. “We want to make people aware of that.”

Elon Volunteers is a student-run organization on campus that helps engage students in volunteer work. Morrison works with Elon Volunteers’ student leaders to plan and implement programs. 

“Service learning focuses on how are you going to apply the skills that you will learn and gain and practice,” Helms said. “How are you going to apply that to greater forms of service or your career. Or implement those in the way that you treat other people.”

A national trend

Volunteering in college is a national trend.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also disclosed that in 2009, more than 42 percent of college graduates volunteered and the rate of volunteerism in the 16-24 age group has risen about two percentage points annually since 2005.

A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed individuals with higher levels of education were more likely to volunteer than those with less education. At least 38.8 percent of college graduates with a bachelor’s degree and higher volunteered, compared to only 26.5 percent of individuals who received only some college education. 

The same statistics indicated that those who had received higher education were more inclined to volunteer for multiple organizations than those with less education.

24/7 Wall St., a financial news company, ranked the volunteerism of states in the U.S. Utah was ranked the state with the highest volunteer rate at 45.3 percent. On average, every Utah resident spends over 75 hours a year volunteering, and this is significantly higher than any other state.

North Carolina was ranked No. 29, with a 29 percent volunteer rate according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Morrison and her staff recently put out a snapshot report of service which revealed that 1,351 students completed more than 20 hours of service during the 2016-2017 school year.

Additionally, there were 43 academic service-learning courses, and the 15 alternative break programs offered saw 210 participants and a total of 107,949 service hours completed. 

The Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement at Elon works to connect resources of the university with the local community based on what they have identified as their community need.

“There are things to understand about bigger issues and that is what our center is about,” Morrison said. “We help people think analytically about what is going on that creates this need.”

The variety of volunteer opportunities offered helps students break the ice and get involved. Word of mouth is the main way students learn about different programs, and the Kernodle Center encourages students to make a steady commitment to the organization they are most passionate about.

“I get satisfaction when I hear a student say they have a light bulb moment,” Morrison said. “Through their experiences students learn about themselves and it helps them create a future for themselves. That is the exciting part.”

Assistant director of student community engagement programs Kyle Anderson organizes alternative break programs, oversees first-year service programs and helps support public relations efforts.

Anderson stresses engaging in service with the local community and doing lots of work with the Alamance County and Burlington communities.

“There are a variety of ways to plug in,” Anderson said. “It is good to try out things and see what resonates with you the most.”

“Elon is unique because of our direct commitment to that.”

Anderson said he enjoys watching students connect with their passions and unite with other resources in the community.

Through a student’s lens

Senior Danielle Satterfield is the executive director of leadership and development for Elon Volunteers. She said she gets a tremendous feeling of satisfaction through matching students’ skills and passions with communities in need to create a lasting bond.

“I can’t dedicate my whole life to service, so I spread my personal reach by connecting others,” Satterfield said.

A particular student stood out to her when she reflected on people in the past that she has helped to get involved with service work.

“I had a student who wanted to do something with dance and partner with the Boys and Girls Club,” Satterfield said. 

“All I did was connect a few dots for her, and she was able to implement a dance class that is still going on today, and that has been rewarding.”

Engaging the community

Junior Walker Helms is the lead service learning ambassador for the Kernodle Center.

Helms said he sees a growing need to become more involved with Alamance County outside of Elon. 

He said he implores students to venture five minutes down the road and see what life is like in the community because that can have a profound impact on them.

“The first step is just letting people know where we are located,” Helms said. “Letting them know that we are here to help people find service opportunities.”

“I encourage students to go out of their comfort zone and enter into an uncomfortable situation in the community.”

That has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the Kernodle Center according to Helms. Working with people from the community and being conducive to open dialogue has been valuable to him.

Helms’ passion for service work stems from his love for the service learning aspect.


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