ATHENS, Ga. — Moving and distributing 4 million pounds of food each year to hundreds of Athens-Clarke County organizations is a daunting task for a full-time warehouse staff of only five people. In fact, it'd be next to impossible. But with the help of student volunteers from the Terry College and elsewhere on campus, the Northeast Georgia Food Bank manages to get the job done.
And how that help arrives has an interesting twist. As part of BUSN 1020, a one-credit-hour course that introduces pre-business students to the academic majors in business and prepares them for the application process to enter the Terry College, each student is expected to contribute 20 hours to nonprofit organizations based in Athens-Clarke County, such as the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, the Athens Area Humane Society, and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.
During the past two semesters, the 825 students enrolled in the class have completed more than 16,000 hours of volunteer service, according to JB Reed, a Terry MBA student whose graduate assistantship as the teaching assistant for BUSN 1020 includes coordinating the community service program for the students.
"These students provide the manpower that otherwise would not be available to these organizations, which do not have the financial resources needed to execute their missions," said Reed.
Student labor is critical for these agencies to function properly.
"It's an enormous volunteer effort and unbelievably helpful," said David Williams, volunteer coordinator for the food bank, where students help sort and distribute canned goods for more than 250 agencies. "We received 300,000 pounds of food last month. I have five warehouse staff, and it would take them forever to handle that amount. Thanks to the efforts of the Terry business class, our volunteer hours increased by more than 25 percent, from 4,500 in 2005 to 5,700 in 2006. We couldn't operate as well without the Terry volunteers, no doubt about it."
That fact isn't lost on Jennifer Bizarro, a sophomore pre-business major who volunteers at the food bank. "Food is such a basic necessity that we take for granted sometimes," she said. "I know I'm helping a lot of other people who don't always have that luxury, and making a positive impact on the community. The process takes you out of your comfort zone a bit and gives you a new perspective. It's very satisfying."
Elaina Sullivan, a freshman who plans to major in marketing and worked at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, agreed wholeheartedly.
"My dad and I love to listen to books on tape, and to get the chance to help others do the same was a great experience," she said. "My voice was recorded. It's permanent. And, hopefully, I will have made a big difference in lives for years to come. It's extremely rewarding."
Time commitment issues tend to be alleviated by how much satisfaction students get out of their volunteer hours.
"I wasn't sure how I would fit the volunteer hours with school, but the center ended up being something I looked forward to every single week," said Sullivan, who added that she would like to work with additional organizations in the future. Reed said this is not uncommon. "Many students have gone above and beyond fulfilling the requirement, putting in many more hours than the class calls for. They are giving back to the community that supports them."
Chris Pope, academic director for Terry's undergraduate program, considers the class a huge success. "The students have certainly responded well," he said. "In the fall semester, we increased the academic rigor of the class and doubled the number of community service hours. We had fewer than 10 students drop out of an enrollment of nearly 600."
Aside from the service hours logged, Pope noted that students gain more from their volunteer efforts than just a passing grade in class. "With these volunteer hours, students are developing leadership qualities. Their community service work teaches them to be stewards of the community."
Kathryn Sims, executive director of Safe Campuses Now, has seen this maturity in Terry volunteers, who coordinate a number of events to promote campus crime awareness, prevention and safety. "I am really impressed with their networking skills, and the leadership tendencies are amazing," said Sims. "The students are phenomenal self-starters who aren't afraid to lead teams of other volunteers."
Personal and career growth can also be viewed as fringe benefits.
"Students develop relationships with local leaders and residents," said Reed. "They take away valuable workplace ethics — how to be on time, to fulfill obligations, and how their performance, good or bad, impacts the organization for which they are working. These are the types of things you learn in the workplace, not in the classroom."
"Volunteer work is something everyone should do, said Bizarro. The process definitely builds character."