Giving back through community service

By Becky Mann

Community colleges are the recipients of tremendous generosity. Donors provide equipment that allows two-year colleges to teach the latest skills, and partners serve on college advisory boards to provide input on the skills student need in today’s workplace. They serve on governing boards, making sure institutions are well prepared for the future; share resources; help colleges provide opportunities for students; and work to improve outcomes that impact the larger community.

As much as two-year colleges are on the receiving end of donations and contributions, it’s also important that they give back. Neighboring businesses and non-profits appreciate support. Potential students, especially those from Gen Z, prioritize making a positive impact on the world.

One of the best ways to make that impact is through community service. South Carolina’s Greenville Technical College (GTC) established Greenville Tech Gives Back in 2012. It kicked off by helping an existing community initiative, Gardening for Good, which planted community gardens in Greenville-area food deserts. Employees and students prepared beds for vegetables and herbs. That first project, which took place on a single day in March, drew 80 volunteers working at eight community gardens across the area.

The effort grew: Three service opportunities were offered on a single day the next fall, and the initiative used a similar format for spring 2013.

As Greenville Tech Gives Back planned activities for future years, its volunteer coordinator met with representatives from Habitat for Humanity, eventually deciding that the college should consider building its own house. A committee raised funds through efforts like cookie sales, coupon book sales and fundraising events at local businesses, which allowed GTC to join with Michelin to complete a home in 2016. The next year, the college joined with another partner to build a home that went to a GTC paralegal student.

At the 10-year mark, Greenville Tech Gives Back has involved the college president, his cabinet, and hundreds of employees and students. Projects have been completed with the vast majority of non-profits in the area. What began as a single day of service has grown to a month-long schedule of opportunities in October and March. More than 3,000 volunteers have participated since the program’s inception.

A variety of ways to connect

Employees and students sign up to volunteer through SignUpGenius. Opportunities generally fill within 48 hours. Those interested understand that when they get the email, they should drop everything and sign up. Otherwise, they may miss out.

The program benefits the college and community in a variety of ways, encouraging employees to connect with students outside the classroom. It provides strong public relations value. It introduces students to the joy of community service, which they can continue throughout their lives, and it demonstrates the college’s commitment to the community. Employees even receive five paid hours each year to participate in the projects.

“I think it’s important to give back to the community and to show that Greenville Tech cares not only about our students and employees but about the area around our campuses,” said Patti Goodwin, who works in human resources at GTC.

Over the past year, the breadth of opportunities offered has expanded even more. Volunteers have sorted canned goods at the food bank, packaged nutritious fare at Meals on Wheels, helped with ramps and other projects for Rebuild Upstate, donated blood on campus through a mobile blood unit, and adopted a family for the holidays.

Diana Moore, a student pursuing an associate degree in arts with plans to transfer to a four-year institution, signed up to work at the Ronald McDonald House, where the aroma of freshly baked cookies greeted parents returning to the house after a long day in the hospital.

“I volunteered because I wanted to, not because I was meeting a class requirement,” she said. “I had a really good time that day meeting the people who work at the Ronald McDonald House and connecting with the other volunteers.”

One of the most popular opportunities, offered twice a year, is through Miracle Hill. The local non-profit brings a truck to campus and collects clothing and household goods in a drive-through event. Based on a percentage of the weight of total donations, the organization provides gift cards to the college that students can use in turn to purchase necessities from Miracle Hill.

This effort also benefits the college’s on-campus food pantry, Caring Corner, which is part of the Student Assistance and Resources Center. Last year, the center helped 177 students and granted more than $197,000 in emergency aid. The pantry provides packaged and canned items to help students navigate food insecurity; and drive-through donation events restock the shelves, allowing the pantry to support students throughout the year.

New to the lineup this year was an exam pack initiative: Volunteers assembled and handed out goody bags to students as they tackled finals.

“It was my pleasure to help because I know how stressful the end of the semester can be,” said Vanja Maksimovic, an administrative office technology student who helped with the effort. “The packages were a nice way to put a smile on students’ faces and give them some energy for exams.”

This article was provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges, and was originally published in CC Daily.

Becky Mann

is director of executive communications and public relations at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina.