By Lauren Eller and Katherine King
Volunteering by Kenyon students can play a crucial role in establishing good relationships with the surrounding communities. However, some say that Kenyon students don’t volunteer enough and that, when they do, it is only to fulfill requirements.
“There’s always tensions when there are community members who live so close to campus,” Lacey Filkins, assistant director of community programs, said. She says she believes that increasing participation in community service is the best way to improve relations between students and local residents.
Student involvement in the community has increased over the past several years, particularly in relation to education. Phoebe Roe ’16, a Collegian staff writer, pioneered the East Knox volunteering program (PEKK) last spring. “It was through an article I was writing for the Collegian that I ended up finding out about East Knox and being upset that nothing was being done here to help, … even though we have a lot of connections,” she said. Since the partnership’s inception, Roe said it has been very successful and many volunteers have contributed hours.
The program provides a number of services to the students at East Knox. Roe described how Kenyon students help out in study halls, clubs and after-school programs. They also implemented the first-ever college prep program at East Knox and established a mentoring program that pairs Kenyon seniors with East Knox students.
“It’s been really uplifting to see the community come together to help out with this project,” Roe said.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Associate Professor of Anthropology Sam Pack said he was “surprised, perhaps disconcerted” by the number of students who make “no meaningful connection with the wider community.” “Except for intermittent trips to Fiesta or Walmart, there isn’t much in the way of interaction,” Pack said.
Pack shaped his Narrative Lives class around this problem. Students must interview someone and record his or her life story, and Pack encourages them to pick a resident at Ohio Eastern Star Home, an independent and assisted living facility in Mount Vernon.
As for the total number of service hours completed, Greek organizations contribute the bulk. “Greeks just tend to do a bigger chunk of them because they have requirements,” Filkins said. While that’s not to say other students are not committed to volunteering — Filkins said athletes were another significant contributing group — Greeks do the most; according to Filkins’ figures, of the 5,200 hours completed campus-wide last spring, Greeks completed roughly 4,000 of them.
Rosie Ouellet ’15, a student in the Narrative Lives class who goes to Eastern Star once a week, notices not many other Kenyon students volunteer with residents. “I heard through some Eastern Star people that they were expecting other people to come once but nobody showed up,” Ouellet said. Ouellet thinks Eastern Star deserves more attention from Kenyon students. However, she knows students are busy. “It’s hard when we all have our own schedules and stuff to try to think beyond our own bubble,” she said.
Roe had a similar perspective, acknowledging that it can be difficult to carve out time in the midst of a busy schedule, but added that being a college student allows for a greater capability to give back. “College is one of the only times in your life when you can be selfish and you don’t have to necessarily pay mortgages or report to a job everyday,” Roe said. “So even if you don’t feel like you have any time because you’re constantly studying or busy with other extracurriculars, very rarely will you have time to yourself to think about things and [take] time to volunteer.”
College can be one of the best times in a person’s life to serve their surrounding community in an unselfish way, Roe suggested. There is certainly room for improvement, but Filkins nonetheless praised Kenyon’s volunteering efforts.
“There’s a good relationship [between Kenyon students and local residents] and it’s only getting better the more hours students go out and do in the community,” Filkins said.