Taylor Blackson ’20 volunteers in January with other Lawrence students at the Fox Valley Humane Association. In all, 117 students did volunteer work in support of animal welfare during the 2019-20 year. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

The Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) encourages and supports Lawrence University students as they take part in acts of service. Despite how unusual the past five months have been, the CCE has not stopped working toward fulfilling that mission to help students serve.

The CCE’s newly released annual report shares many of the remarkable things Lawrence students do to serve the community, on and off campus. We pulled some of the 2019-20 numbers from the report to highlight that good work, which has continued despite the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the volunteer opportunities shifted to online as Spring Term went remote.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look:  

306 …

The number of first-year students who did volunteer work in the community as part of the Welcome Week Community Engagement Bazaar last fall. The annual effort introduces students on each residence hall floor to a bevy of volunteer opportunities in the Appleton area. In all, 16 local service projects benefited from the student outreach.

33 …  

Speaking of first-year students, this is the number who participated in the Viking Ambassadors in Service and Engagement (VASE) program. VASE is an eight-week facilitated service-learning opportunity for first-year students. In the VASE program, students are able to choose a social justice issue that interests them and work in a cohort with other first-year students. In these cohorts, students learn more about their issue of focus and serve with community organizers who are actively working on the issue.  

“We learned a few years ago that the two barriers for students to volunteer are a lack of interest in volunteering alone and transportation challenges,” said Kristi Hill, director of the CCE. “So, the VASE program addresses that. We plan all the projects for the students, we gather a cohort of students interested, we provide all the transportation, and students learn and serve together around an issue of interest.” 

43 … 

The number of Lawrentians who participated in the emergency virtual tutoring program. The CCE worked with St. Norbert College and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to create an online tutoring program for K-12 students when schools had to quickly shift to online classes in March. The CCE worked closely with the Appleton Area School District to extend most of the support from Lawrence to the local community.  

“We have always been innovative about having virtual opportunities, and I think being virtual meets a need and an interest for some students,” Hill said. “It is easier for them and removes their barriers of transportation. And as far as Appleton goes, we were very concerned about the equity gap that was likely to happen as a result of school going online. … What we learned in the process is that, yes, students did need academic support, but they seemed to benefit more from the mentoring and the connection, getting the motivation to keep going.”  

18 … 

The number of students who were financially compensated through Lawrence for the virtual outreach they were doing when their jobs went away amid the pandemic.

“Early on during the global pandemic, the Student Life division sent out a survey to students to better understand what the current needs were with students,” Hill said. “There were three areas students indicated they needed Lawrence support with that I thought the CCE could support and address. One of them was, ‘We need jobs.’ A lot of on and off campus jobs were no longer available. So, we reached out to the Financial Aid office and asked if we could use the funding previously being used for other on-campus employment to employ students to help the community.”     

$400 … 

Student volunteers organized a Cat Cafe during Winter Term, allowing students to spend time with the cats. It raised money for a local animal rescue organization. (Photo by Mia Francis)

The amount of money the CCE was able to raise in the first Cat Café at Lawrence. A Cat Café is exactly what it sounds like. People are able to grab a cup of coffee while getting to pet a furry friend. Cat cafés have started to grow in popularity around the world, and with the help of the People for Animal Welfare (PAW), the CCE was able to host a Cat Café at Lawrence. All the money raised went to the Saving Paws Animal Rescue in Appleton. 

“Sara Prostko ’20 organized this event with PAW,” Hill said. “It was a great idea, but it was difficult for them to plan. They learned a lot about the process of getting animals on campus, and the regulations one needs to go through to protect students that might have allergies. But when the event did finally happen, they were blown away, I was blown away. They had a very long waiting line of students waiting to be with a cat for a period of time and raise funds to support the care of animals that aren’t as fortunate as these animals were. While it was hard to plan, it was hugely impactful and beneficial and a great experiential learning experience for the students. I hope it continues post global pandemic.”  

117 …

The Cat Café wasn’t the only opportunity Lawrentians had to support animals in need. The CCE reports that 117 students volunteered 4,655 hours in support of animal welfare, including co-leading 16 outreach events at local shelters and rescues.

5 … 

The number of virtual discussions the CCE hosted during Spring Term. The CCE hosted these discussions as a way of creating space for Lawrentians to hear from each other and stay connected while social distancing. All of the discussions featured a faculty or staff member for students to connect with.  

“Another need the students mentioned in the survey released by Student Life was they wanted support in navigating how to stay connected to community during COVID,” said Hill. “This idea came from Sara Prostko ’20, Morgan Fisher ’22, and staff member Doniell Erickson ’17. They felt very disconnected and isolated. They missed the Lawrence community and the opportunity to relate. Through these discussions, students got the chance to get to know faculty and staff just as humans and were able to have a conversation outside of the classroom. And the faculty and staff we invited were 100% the right choice; they were very vulnerable and willing to personally share how they were experiencing the pandemic, and they listened to the students.”  

805 …

Lawrence students go to work during a volunteer outing at Riverview Gardens. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

The number of volunteer hours dedicated by Lawrence students to environmental and sustainability needs. More than 160 students took part in sustainability-focused student organizations, including the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG), the LU Food Recovery, Environmental Club, and the LU Green Machine.

56… 

The number of students who received recognition this year from the CCE, which expanded its volunteer recognition and awards program to highlight the achievements of even more students.  

“A third need students mentioned in the survey was seniors were feeling a little bit more anxious about graduation and their life-after-Lawrence plans,” Hill said. “We realized our office is so lucky to be packed full of inspiring stories and we get to see the best of students. But those stories don’t always get told to a larger audience, so we decided to raise up students who are already phenomenal yet haven’t been formally recognized. We created new awards that were authentic to the students’ community engagement. We wanted to raise up students and really named what they have been doing to help leverage them in the world of work.”  

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.