Renewing Skidmore's commitment to volunteering: Skidmore students should not just do well, they should do good

Posted by Andrew Shi

Generally, spring break invokes images of the sun, warm weather and beaches. For eight Skidmore students though, spring break 2012 was spent constructing homes to help tornado victims. Their efforts helped relieve Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which had been decimated by tornados nearly one year ago in April. At least 58 people were killed, and countless more lost their homes and everything they owned.

The Skidmore team stayed at an old YMCA camp that has been taken over by Habitat for Humanity, although the team operated through a localized charity organization named Project Blessings. During the six-hour work days they helped paint the whole inside of a gymnasium connected to the church and nicknamed "The Closet," as it served as a dispenser for much needed clothes to the impoverished.

They organized hundreds of articles of clothing by gender and size. They used metal spoons to remove paint that dripped onto the floor. In the last few days a house purchased by Project Blessings was repainted - inside and outside. Hedges were trimmed, the lawn mowed and leaves raked. Two decrepit sheds were torn down for liability reasons. The whole house was restored to a degree of cleanliness that even Cinderella would envy.

The Skidmore team, along with Project Blessings and students from other colleges, made one home donation-ready and refurnished a gym to house the needy. While this accomplishment is tremendous, it is still only a drop in the bucket. The 2011 Red Cross report determined that the April tornadoes had destroyed 7,807 homes and rendered an additional 5,817 in need of major repairs. In light of this information, our efforts seem almost insignificant.

The conclusion from this isn't to give up or to roll over in defeat. The answer isn't to do less, but rather to do more.

At the YMCA camp, the Skidmore team joined a group that was building a single house, from scratch, to be given to a single man. This man, during the previous year's tornadoes, had ushered his family into the bathtub of their home, which, because it is grounded to the floor, makes it one of the safest spots. The man couldn't get himself into the bathtub in time though. In a sad twist the tornado swept away the bathtub, and his family, but left him behind. The man was left with nothing. This new house might just be enough to keep him going.

A lot of lives were ruined, a lot of people left homeless, but was that week spent by Habitat for Humanity in giving that one man his life back not worth all the trouble? It may have been one out of 100,000, but that was one life saved. The house restored in part by the Skidmore team will help this man get back on his feet. 

In the wake of a new wave of tornadoes to ravage the Midwest and the South, communities need more volunteers. Lives depend on the aid of volunteers, because often the government can't step up.

In 2011, Skidmore was honored by President Obama as one of 511 colleges across the country to excel in community service. There is a multitude of clubs and organizations at Skidmore dedicated to the local community: Benef-action, the mentoring program, the Red Cross Club and others. These organizations host numerous events, fundraisers and food drives in Saratoga County for projects like Skidmore Cares.

Though our efforts are a good start, Skidmore didn't attain the president's highest achievement - honor roll with distinction. Many of the schools that received these honors are located near recovering disaster areas. Regardless of whether or not our efforts receive recognition, what matters is that Skidmore mobilizes and volunteers.

Students often say they will volunteer, but when the time comes to act upon those words, they're more likely to hand out excuses than to give a hand. It's understandable that students often have heavy workloads, but if they really care they can make the time. They can wait to start drinking until Friday, or even sacrifice just an hour or two from their weekends to go to the food bank or animal shelter. If they really can't afford a few hours from their school week, they have three months of summer break. There's so much to be done. Students can volunteer for issues that they connect strongly with, locally or globally. They can volunteer to protect the environment, donate blood or support Kony 2012. The great thing about volunteering is it can be done any time.

You don't need to give up your spring break to volunteer. You just need to realize that there are others in need and do something to mitigate the suffering of these people. It's not enough to read a headline about families losing their homes to a tornado or to see a homeless man perishing on a park bench, and to simply feel bad about it. Feeling bad doesn't change anything; unfortunately, it is not the thought that counts.

Time magazine named "The Protester" as its person of the year. Remember Occupy Wall Street and the movement that spread across the nation? There may be 1 percent that makes an absurd amount of money and 99 percent that has to worry about how to budget their next paycheck, but what about the 15.3 percent that live below the poverty line. We may be poor college students, but we still go to college.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it." Though from what can be seen, the current safety net is porous with too many person-sized holes. There's a large need for change and, to quote President Obama, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

If you want change, then do something. If you are bothered by poverty, than do something about it.

As social creatures, we need each other. If you one day were befallen by tragedy, wouldn't you like to know that someone would be there to lend a hand? Skidmore needs to do-more, help-more, give-more.

To get started with volunteering, attend a Benef-action meeting every other Tuesday at 8:15. Benef-action is Skidmore's community service club, and can help point those who really wish to help others in the right direction.

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