The good Samaritans
Volunteer organization immerses members in community service
Junior Anabelle Rangel had tried the "Padre Island spring break thing" and found it lacking. So this spring, instead of sand, salt water, beer and bonfires, she and several other members of UTA Volunteers spent five days at Camp Summit near Argyle working with developmentally delayed adults.
"I wanted to do something more helpful, something productive that would benefit somebody other than myself," she said.
"Our ultimate goal is to develop what we like to call active citizenship. The idea is that when students leave here they'll know how to take an active role in community volunteerism, making it a part of their lives."
-Student Activities Assistant Director Seth Ressl
That "something productive" ranged from moving furniture to cleaning stables and even spending a weekend as a cabin counselora sort of surrogate guardian for eight campers.
"Can you say '15-hour days'?" Rangel said with a laugh. "It was tiring and exceedingly challenging. It felt like we were given an enormous responsibilityoverwhelming at first. But when it was over you felt that you'd really accomplished something and made a contribution."
Similar sentiments can be heard throughout UTA Volunteers, a relatively new campus organization that focuses entirely on what its name impliesvolunteering for community service.
At that, UTA Volunteers is still evolving. That includes its name.
"We began last fall as the Office for Service and Community Outreach," recalls adviser Seth Ressl of the Department of Student Activities. An umbrella entity was envisioned that would provide volunteers for UTA and the surrounding community, with emphasis on social services.
The concept sputtered.
"We were trucking along with the idea but having a hard time as well," Ressl said. "We needed a better identity, plus the concept of it as a staff-run organization for volunteer activities wasn't working all that smoothly."
Then came Sept. 11.
"We recognized that it needed to be more of a student organization and less of a University entity," Ressl said. "At that time we also had an influx of students saying the equivalent of 'I want to help some way, but I don't know what to do.' "
So UTA Volunteers was created as a student organization, the sole purpose of membership being active volunteerism.
"Though there are always special projects, like the Alternate Spring Break, some of the volunteerism was also formalized," Ressl said. "The students put together a foundation of activities for the spring."
That foundation includes First Friday and Third Thursday service activities. Projects have ranged from helping Mission Arlington with an assortment of tasks to a revamping and cleanup of the Original Seconds store, proceeds from which benefit the Arlington Women's Shelter. Students also have visited independent living facilities for individuals with disabilities.
"Often there's nothing fancy involved," Ressl said. "A lot of these organizations have a lot of work to do, and they need bodies. But sometimes it's more involved, like counseling at Camp Summit."
The idea, Ressl said, is to provide both short- and long-term volunteer services. Although participation has grown steadily, so have requests for help. Three to four a week are common. Each is screened by a student committee that matches resourcesavailable studentswith requests.
While UTA Volunteers is a student organization, faculty and staff members also pitch in. "In fact, we need more volunteers to help us find more volunteers," Ressl said. "Our ultimate goal is to develop what we like to call active citizenship. The idea is that when students leave here they'll know how to take an active role in community volunteerism, making it a part of their lives."