Every year, the Corporation for National and Community Service calls upon individuals and groups around the country to participate in MLK Day of Service by volunteering in their communities and addressing some the nation’s most pressing issues. Here at Elizabethtown College, the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) is known for coordinating specific volunteering opportunities that allow for students and faculty to meaningfully engage with the greater Etown community. In the past, the CCCE has partnered with organizations such as the Cornerstone Youth Center, the Elizabethtown Public Library and the Masonic Village. From academic departments to student organizations, the campus community comes together to not only honor King, but to embody the spirit of “Educate for Service.”
This year, the department of Residence Life chose to celebrate this day of service by working with Etown Community Housing and Outreach Services (ECHOS), an organization that directly serves the local community. In the fall of 2015, Janice Davis, administrative assistant for the biology department, and her husband launched the Etown Winter Shelter out of the basement of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with the help of volunteers from the local community. By the end of the first winter season, the shelter had already served 18 clients, averaging 7 to 9 clients per night.
“ECHOS offers an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness or in need of services to remain in their community rather than having to relocate/travel to Harrisburg or Lancaster,” Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Allison Bridgeman said. “It was immediately apparent when the Winter Shelter opened its doors that there was a great need in our community.”
During the fall semester, Bridgeman started meeting with Kim Grey, a social work case manager who works on-campus in the ECHOS offices, to discuss ways in which Residence Life could partner with the organization throughout the year.
“As a department, Residence Life was committed to honoring Dr. King’s legacy through service on MLK Day of Service,” Bridgeman said. “ECHOS offered us the opportunity to partner with them to serve our community as a staff group.”
Resident Assistants (RAs), area coordinators and other ECHOS volunteers participated in three different projects within the community. Some RAs worked to move two families into their new homes by loading and unloading furnishings and working to set up all of the furniture according to the wishes of the families. Another group of RAs helped ECHOS to sort through donated goods including clothes, food and cleaning supplies.
Victoria Tassallo, an RA in Schlosser Residence Hall, was very humbled by her experience working with one of the families who was being moved into new homes. She noted how inspired she was to see how the parents of six children worked so hard to keep their family healthy, happy and together.
“I find that, at college, we are constantly bombarded with financial issues, and we tend to emphasize money because we are always struggling on the border of being broke,” Tassallo said. “But it made me very thankful and appreciative to step back and personally meet a family who had no money and who were so thankful for the little things.”
The ECHOS collaboration with Residence Life was an overall success, offering students and faculty a great opportunity to reach out into the local community to assist at-risk individuals and to put things into perspective. Bridgeman hopes that the Residence Life department and the student body as a whole will continue to partner with ECHOS in the future and give back to their community in any way that they can.
“ECHOS offers a second chance to individuals and families who need it,” Tassallo stated. “With our school advocating so strongly to educate for service, I think it’s very important to keep in mind the most important lesson of service – to have compassion and empathy for others.”
ECHOS is always looking to engage more students, organizations and academic departments on campus to help keep the Winter Shelter up and running. In addition to volunteering to work at the shelter, students can help as part of a moving team to assist clients as they transition into local apartments. ECHOS is also in need of donations of furniture, clothing, food and cleaning supplies for future apartment startups.