Crops and drops:
Norwich volunteers at it again © Oct. 13, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications
The Norwich community has jumped feet first into volunteering this year and will have ample opportunity to continue it throughout the upcoming academic year. Hosting a myriad of programs since the beginning of school and participating in many others throughout the community, Norwich has set a high standard of volunteer work for its students.
According to Nicole DiDomenico, director of the Office of Volunteer Programs (OVP), increasing Norwich’s volunteer numbers has been a work in progress for the past four years. “We have seen tremendous growth during my time here,” she said.
And the numbers support her assertion. In 2002, the AmeriCorps program had only a single participant. This year the program boasts 15 students, the largest team in Vermont. Alternative Spring Break is another area in which rapid growth has occurred. In 2002, 15 students went on the trip while last year that number soared to 28.
Complementing the growth in participation has been a similar expansion in the number of volunteer programs offered at Norwich. Three annual events have been introduced over the past four years, one of which, the Crop Walk, occurred on October 7 and was extremely successful. “We exceeded our goal of raising $5,000 to help fight hunger by $1,000 at this year’s event,” DiDomenico said.
Next in line for DiDomenico’s volunteers is the October 19 and 20 Drop ‘N Swap, an annual event in which unwanted clothes are distributed to the community. And if last year’s event is any indication, it looks as if it will continue to be a successful event.
“Last year, we had 450 people attend the Drop ‘N Swap and 200 cars dropped off bags of clothing,” DiDomenico said. “We ended up with over 1,200 bags of clothes.”
All of the OCV programs rely on student participation to make them happen, and that is partly where the value of each event comes into play. Having students involved, particularly in the Northfield community, creates an important connection between Norwich and Northfield. Paul Hoffman, pastor of the Northfield United Methodist Parish and chairman of the Crop Walk committee, said student participation constantly reshapes and reinforces the relationship that exists between the University and the town.
“Student participation in events is great because of the interaction with townspeople,” he said. “Many people in town think ‘Norwich just sits up there and I don’t have anything to do with them.’”
Moreover, student volunteers also make it easier for events such as the Crop Walk to occur because they can help with the nuts and bolts of running an event, Hoffman said.
“At the Crop Walk, they helped mostly with the physical things—setting up tables, staffing the registration table and snack tables, and putting up signage,” Hoffman said. At this year’s event, there were 69 walkers and more than 20 volunteers, and their help, Hoffman said, was invaluable.
The students also realize the value of their participation in volunteer programs. In a partnership between the OVP and the Corps of Cadets, each battalion is responsible for supporting programs in a certain area. Norwich’s First Battalion, whose area is community health and hunger awareness, volunteered at the Crop Walk this year. Mechanical engineering major and First Battalion XO Ryan Camasso, said Corps participation is crucially important for both the community and the school.
“It is really important to do projects like this one because the long term benefits can provide so much for a community in need,” Camasso said. “We exceeded our goal of $5,000…knowing that Norwich had a hand in that success is priceless.”
Part of the money will go to Community Emergency Relief Volunteers ( CERV), the organization that manages the food shelf in Northfield. CERV, which gets 100-percent of its budget through donations, will use some of the Crop Walk money to purchase food for distribution in the Northfield community. The rest of the funds will go to the event’s sponsor, Church World Service, to alleviate hunger throughout the world.
The Drop ’N Swap also benefits from student involvement. Senior Cadet Michael Kendrick has been working with the OVP to make sure the program is a success. The English major said he will be busy in the upcoming days “…recruiting volunteers from both our civilian and Corps of Cadet lifestyles to running the event from set-up on Thursday evening to its completion Saturday night.” Expecting between 70 and 90 students to help with the event, he said the benefits come in many ways.
“Programs like the Drop 'N Swap benefit Northfield by removing the waste that would have been created,” Kendrick said. “Getting students involved in the community not only helps to brighten our reputation within the community but also helps students network with community partners. By getting involved, the students are able to build not only their resume, but also close friendships with the townspeople.”
And while the programs are remarkably successful, DiDomenico and the OVP are not satisfied with the status quo.
“We are always looking for ways to get more people involved,” said DiDomenico. “We have to use many approaches. We have to do everything to get our programs in front of the students.”
And according to Kendrick, once that happens, the volunteers will come and Norwich will continue in its proud tradition of service before self.
“It is vital to our institution and our nation that every able person gives back,” he said. “Why is it important to get students involved? Because Norwich students enact change that has lasting effect.”