Volunteer Network inspires service learning

On the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 19, the St. Olaf Volunteer Network VN camped out in the quad to host its annual informational fair. Representatives from a variety of student organizations set up tables in front of Buntrock Commons, eager to discuss their work with prospective volunteers.

Anna Christianson ’14 is the coordinator of VN. She said that the goal of this fair, which VN members organize every fall, is to facilitate conversations between directors of volunteer organizations and would-be volunteers.

“The purpose of the VN fair is to provide students with the opportunity to take some time to talk with program directors of various volunteer organizations on St. Olaf’s campus so that they can learn how to get involved,” Christianson said. In addition, she added, the fair aims to educate students about the benefits of volunteering.

“The goal of the fair is to make St. Olaf students realize that volunteering isn’t something that everyone should do because it looks good on a resume,” said Christianson, “but it is something that people should choose to do because it is a great way to connect with people in the St. Olaf and surrounding community.” She also noted that volunteering provides crucial learning experiences for undergraduate students, and it also has the potential to be “extremely fun.”

Organizations represented at the VN fair included Ole Spring Relief, Special Olympics, Awesome Club and Feed My Starving Children, among others. Jackie Rath ’14, one of the co-presidents of St. Olaf Cancer Connection, chatted with fair attendees in hopes of raising awareness about the opportunities Cancer Connection offers.

“Relay for Life isn’t the only thing we do,” Rath said. “We have an event every single month, and everyone’s invited.”

For the students interested in finding volunteer opportunities but unsure of where to begin, VN members offered them motivation. Any student who talked to representatives from at least three organizations could win a free pair of sunglasses. This incentive encouraged Isaac Rysdahl ’14 to make his way around the fair.

“I talked to ROG [Reaching Our Goals], ECFE [Early Childhood Family Education] and the creativity and community honor house,” he said. “I learned a lot.”

Katie Studer ’17 described the VN fair as a much smaller version of the co-curricular fair with an environment that was relaxed, open and inviting.

“It was really interesting to see how many opportunities there were to volunteer,” Studer said. “I signed up for the Humane Society, Feed My Starving Children and an ESL tutoring program. I’m really excited.”

Gabby Coll ’14 works as the Marketing and Communications Officer for VN. Coll said she knew she had an interest in working in marketing for a campus organization, and she chose VN in order to surround herself with possible volunteer opportunities all year long.

“I think it came together really well,” said Coll of the fair.

VN aims to achieve their goals of encouraging volunteering and fostering community not only at the fair each fall but also throughout the school year. It provides funding, support and communication between organizers and volunteers.

“We want our members to feel as though they can have the resources they need to be successful with their volunteer efforts, which ultimately give back to the community,” Christianson said. She also said that the VN informs Oles of one-time volunteer opportunities that occasionally arise throughout the year, even if the opportunities are not connected to a specific organization under the VN umbrella.

“VN organizations provide opportunities to work with young students, animals, the elderly, food pantries, the American Cancer Society and more,” Christianson said. She also said that students should frequently check Oleville.com for updates and upcoming volunteer opportunities.

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