Meeting community needs © Nov. 17, 2006 Norwich University Office of Communications
It's a slow day at the Northfield Boys & Girls Club on Main Street. Only 20 kids have shown up in the 15 minutes since school let out, instead of the usual 35 or so.
Located on the second floor of the town’s historic Gray Building, the club offers children the use of multiple computers, couches, two television sets, a pool table and a refrigerator. As kids step over a growing pile of backpacks to get through the door, the space fills with a rush of activity and noise.
In jeans and a black t-shirt, club counselor Josh Barnick leans against a table. Most of the kids who come in the door give him a hug or a high-five. The 19-year-old Barnick and the two other counselors there that day are responsible for keeping the peace.
"I enjoy it here," Barnick said. "It gives the kids a safe environment and a good alternative to being out in the streets. A lot of these kids don't have a picturesque family life to go home to. We have food and games here and if the kids have a problem, they come to me."
Barnick is part of AmeriCorps, a nation-wide program that matches people with volunteer positions in areas of need in their community. A psychology major at Norwich, he devotes about ten hours a week to the club.
As the nation's first private military college and the birthplace of the armed forces' ROTC program, Norwich is synonymous with military service. But this year, a group of students like Barnick have come together to form the largest AmeriCorps volunteer student group in the state. Through the organization's education award program, this group is making community service an important part of their college experience.
Barnick recruited some of his friends to volunteer by telling them how rewarding the experience has been for him personally "I've been very lucky with the group from Norwich, they've been incredible," said Tony Moulton , director of the Northfield Boys & Girls Club.
Regarding Barnick's contribution to the club, Moulton said, "He's saving kids. I mean that sincerely; I'm not saying that as an analogy or a metaphor. He's had a huge impact here," he added. "I've told him to consider me a permanent reference."
Just down the street from the club and next to a local pharmacy, Cadet David Maida unlocks the door to the Making A Difference Resource Center. He passes the pamphlets, books and videos that line the shelves of the main room and makes his way to the back office. Maida, also an AmeriCorps team member, successfully juggles his responsibilities to the Corps with his volunteer service to Northfield.
By his own estimate, he gets about five hours of sleep a night. But on Monday mornings, before classes start, he can be found volunteering at the high school with one of the center's student groups. "I try to make what they want to do happen," he said.
On Monday afternoons Maida's at the center keeping the doors open while Suzanne Jolly, the facility's one full-time employee, is working in the community.
"We're the only facility in the area that focuses on substance abuse issues," said Jolly. "We offer information and referrals to treatment centers," she explains. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, so Jolly relies on Maida and several other Norwich volunteers to serve as staff members.
Because they work one on one with youth, Maida and the other volunteers go through a criminal background check and are trained on how to make referrals to drug treatment centers. Since it opened last March, the center has touched the lives of more than 460 young people through a variety of substance abuse programs.
"Some of the kids I see remind me of myself when I was their age." Maida said. "In the town I grew up in, there was nothing for most kids to do but get in trouble."
Maida hopes to be able to open up the center for movie nights soon and he’s also working on a scholarship for local residents to attend the Leadership Challenge Weekend at Norwich.
"It would be a great opportunity. At LCW, we teach young people how to take on personal challenges and we introduce conflict management skills," he said. "I'd like to just tell some of these kids that if you want to do something, if you have a goal, just go for it and don't let anyone tell you any different."
Back on campus, AmeriCorps team member Maureen Hawe is committed to sustainability initiatives and helping Norwich to become a greener campus. She's doing her part to change things for the better with a quick twist of the hand and a flick of the wrist.
Hawe recently took on the Vermont Collegiate Change a Light Challenge. She's leading a group of students that crisscross the campus swapping incandescent light bulbs for more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Their goal is to change a thousand bulbs.
The challenge is part of a national campaign to raise student awareness and provide energy saving opportunities for participating institutions. The benefits of Hawe's efforts extend well beyond the campus and the town of Northfield, but it only takes one person changing one light to make a difference.
According to federal studies, if every American home swapped one incandescent bulb for a compact fluorescent bulb, the nation would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year.
"I think our AmeriCorps team represents exactly what we want to see in our entire student body," said Nicole DiDomenico, director of the Office of Volunteer Programs at Norwich. DiDomenico serves as the team's advisor.
"They're a diverse group in terms of academic majors, professional interests and campus lifestyle choices," she said. "They're transcending stereotypes and focusing on service and leadership. They are setting the standard and the pace for the entire Norwich community."