This semester, the College continues to live up to its motto of “learning and labor.” On Tuesday, The Science Center was cluttered with tables and people presenting and learning about volunteer organizations. The Community Service Fair, a yearly event put on by the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, was in full swing.
The fair, along with its fall semester counterpart, the Community Connections Fair, is in its seventh year. A wide range of organizations filled the Science Center Atrium, from student and local artistic groups such as the Plum Creek Review and the Big Parade to senior centers such as Kendal at Oberlin to child tutoring and mentoring organizations like Du Bois, a summer math and soccer camp. Many had already seen student volunteers come and go, though a few, such as El Centro de Servicios Sociales, a Lorain County organization that helps youth and adults alike, came hoping to find a new population of volunteers.
According to Sarah Ho, Bowling Green State University graduate student and community service intern at the Bonner Center who organized the Community Service Fair, the event comes at a good time for students to start looking into projects they may not have known about or had time for during the previous semester. “This is a great way for students who are starting out their new semester, especially first-year students who have been overwhelmed by information,” she said, adding that many first-years spend much of their first semester getting used to college life.
She also noted that Oberlin is an excellent place to find community service volunteers. Students come to the school knowing that activism plays a huge role here. “It’s always been a large part of the community,” says Ho.
However, distance is often an obstacle in coordinating student volunteers.
“A lot of students who don’t have cars will go to places within walking distance,” Ho said. “We have over 100 tutors each year going to local schools because students can walk there.”
However, the Bonner Center is trying to combat that problem with a free car rental program. Any student with an Ohio driver’s license, she said, can use a car for free up to twice a week. If a student wishes to use his own car to do community service, the Bonner Center will reimburse him at 14 cents per gallon — an amount that is determined by the state, which gives the center “a maximum amount that we’re allowed to give.”
Scheduling events is yet another issue. Oberlin students are “all very involved and active in a lot of different things,” Ho said, “and then on top of that, you’ve got classwork and a possibly part time job.” Community service-related activities and events coordinated by the Bonner Center are therefore often planned in the evening or on weekends in order to fit around student schedules.
Walking through the Science Center on Tuesday, however, it was clear that with or without students’ conflicting schedules and transportation issues, community service is a prominent part of Oberlin. There were enough people attending to, within the first hour, go through several boxes full of the pizza provided at the fair and fill several organizations’ contact sheets — no small feat, considering 32 different organizations were at the event.