Dartmouth College students have chance to volunteer, learn about their community

Jim Parsons

Campus News Editor

Students at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., have found a way to take learning outside the classroom - and even beyond the borders of the school.

Their efforts are coordinated under the Dartmouth Community Outreach Project, or "DarCORPS," a full day of community service and volunteerism.

The program was organized last year by then-sophomore Rex Morey.

"(Morey) decided he wanted to do something at Dartmouth. We broke up into committees," explained Nancy Bloomfield, a junior who co-chaired the freshman DarCORPS.

The central goal of the project, which sends teams of student volunteers to various work sites, is to raise awareness about the areas surrounding the campus, she said.

The first DarCORPS was held May 3 last year. The number of volunteers was estimated at 550 - out of a total school enrollment of just 3,600.

"It was cold, rainy and sleeting, but when the students got off the bus (at the end of the day), everyone was happy. They had a great time," Morey said.

"People who didn't know each other were working on projects with each other, and people who wouldn't interact normally were working together," Bloomfield said.

"Kind of the worst possible thing that could have happened was bad weather, but there was so much spirit, and we had such a good turnout, and everyone had such a good time - I think this is kind of a failproof event," she said.

The event is organized by upper-classman "team leaders" who gather volunteers and direct site operations.

"They just get everybody together and they're kind of responsible for what goes on at the site," Bloomfield said.

For event planners, who are divided into committees to handle specific aspects of the work, one of the first tasks is to send letters to local volunteer agencies and determine jobs that need doing in the community.

"We decide which jobs will work out for us," Bloomfield said. "We take them all, pretty much."

Planners then match volunteers with specific jobs as their response cards come in.

"Our relationship with a lot of the agencies is being strengthened," Bloomfield said. "One thing that's very important is that there's a dialogue between a large pool of volunteers and the agencies who really know what their community's needs are."

Morey and Bloomfield's joint work with the program began with their service on the Dartmouth Student Assembly.

Morey had organized a similar event at his high school. DarCORPS began taking shape in the fall of 1996, when 40 student leaders from across the campus were organized with the help of the school's service-oriented Tucker Foundation.

"Basically, Rex knows a lot of people, so he started talking to people he knew and thought might represent different groups on campus," Bloomfield said.

The program is important, she added, because "it makes us more a part of the larger community and not just part of our bubble."

Bloomfield explained that the college is the center of its own social life in small Hanover, a town with no night life and one off-campus movie theater. "It's not like another college town where you might drive out a mile and hang out with other college students in the area," she said.

The volunteers began their day of work with an opening ceremony, where they received information and prepared lunches. Then a private bussing company carried the volunteers to the job sites.

The May event raised more than $10,000 to fund transportation and other expenses. About 650 jobs were coordinated at some 50 volunteer agencies.

The second incarnation of DarCORPS drew on the freshman class for volunteers. 'ShmenCORPS, modeled on the May event, included about 300 new Dartmouth students.

This time, the event was entirely funded by the International Rotary Club of Hanover rather than by fund raising.

"We sent out an e-mail to all the class of '99, and we had a huge response," Bloomfield said. "We had well over our quota of people to sign up."

She said the number of workers at 'ShmenCORPS was slated to be capped at 250 since there were about that many concrete volunteer spots needed in the community.

However, well over 350 response cards were received, she said, and when about 300 volunteers showed up the morning of the event, they were all able to be placed in jobs.

Volunteer jobs on the Sept. 13 work day ranged from building a cabin to maintaining trails for Hartford Parks and Recreation, according to The Dartmouth, the school's newspaper.

"Because the students were in small groups, they really got to interact with other students as well as the agencies they were working at," Zoe McLaren, a participant, told the newspaper.

Volunteers were treated to a barbecue and party after the event, featuring a local band and a guest speaker.

Bloomfield said the benefits of 'ShmenCORPS were several.

"(It was) a great way for first-year students to meet each other and their upper-class team leaders," she said.

"(Also, it was) their first introduction to the community outside of Hanover and the Kmart, and (was) an introduction to the Tucker Foundation and its community service programs.

"We had really good feedback from the agencies, and the main way we know that is when we contacted them to participate again, they were glad to do it," Bloomfield said.

The Upper Valley Hostel, an accommodation for out-of-town hospital patients and their families, was one of those agencies.

"This is our second experience with volunteers from the college's DarCORPS program," Kay Allen, director of the hostel, told The Dartmouth.

"Given the essential time demands Dartmouth students already face ... we are highly impressed with these young men and women who are willing to devote time to helping community agencies like ours," Allen said.

Volunteers painted an entryway and helped install sections of a fence around the facility's parking areas.

Scott Brown, director of the Tucker Foundation, said 'ShmenCORPS will be doubled in capacity next year.

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