Oxford College students Ryland Avery, left, from Stone Mountain, and Kevin Childress, from Covington, recently cleaned the garden at the home of an elderly veteran couple in Covington. The college recently reported that the past 2011-12 academic year, students surpassed their previous volunteer record by volunteering more than 16,450 hours.
OXFORD -- On a typical Friday afternoon, you likely will find an Oxford College student preparing meals for the homeless, mentoring and tutoring students or visiting classrooms and assisted living facilities.
Oxford College recently reported that in the past 2011-12 academic year, its students surpassed their previous record by volunteering for more than 16,450 hours.
"Students at Oxford College are academically gifted, but from my perspective, what's really special about them is their big hearts," said Crystal McLaughlin, director of Student Development at the college. "They really care about others and doing what they can to make their community a better place."
Students have worked with many community and nonprofit organizations in the Newton County community, including Family Promise, Washington Street Community Center, Flint Hill Elementary School, Merryvale Assisted Living, the Newton County Detention Center and the Newton County Juvenile Court's afternoon program.
"Student volunteerism should be a partnership," said Joseph Moon, dean of Campus Life at the college. "Students learn valuable life experiences, and our community partners can use the energy, compassion and intellect of college students to serve their constituents' needs. The benefit is mutual."
And a big move doesn't hinder Oxford students' commitment, either -- even after Palmer-Stone Elementary School moved away from the adjacent college a couple of years ago, the partnership with the students continued. At Flint Hill Elementary School, Oxford College students volunteered for 2,573 hours last year as classroom assistants, after-school helpers and mentors to students.
"These students become part of our Flint Hill family as they volunteer their time not only to help mentor and tutor our students, but over the past few years they have also helped the PTO with fundraisers, our Relay for Life team as they raise support for cancer research, and wrapped and supported needy families with our Project Christmas tree program," said Joy Fielding, an instructional coach at Oxford College.
Students may choose to volunteer on their own with organizations they are passionate about or serve through programs coordinated by Oxford College.
Three students are selected to work as Volunteer Oxford Coordinators, who develop service projects based on needs in the community and coordinate logistics for larger groups of student volunteers. This year they have identified hunger, homelessness, literacy and education as their local areas of focus.
Additionally, the college's Bonner Leader program began in 2005. The 23 students accepted into the leadership program earn a stipend from AmeriCorps for their college education by working with a local school or nonprofit organization and serving 300 hours per academic year.
"These students are inspiring humanitarians who are constantly juggling their commitment to service with demanding academic schedules," McLaughlin said.
The program is sponsored by the Office of Student Development, Oxford's Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement and the federal work study program.
"I (have been) able to branch out in the community and learn about educational and social issues, meeting amazing people and inspiring others," Oxford sophomore Sasha Palmer said.
Oxford students also may take Theory Practice/Servicing Learning courses that have a two hour per week service component, relating real world situations and experiences to concepts they are studying.
The student-run Circle K International service club has been active on the Oxford College campus since 1953. This year, the group has a record 60 members who are each encouraged to start their own service project. In 2012, projects in Newton County included raising money for Newton Reads and Willing Helpers, working at Rivers Alive and assisting the Alcovy High School Key Club blood drive and the Covington Christmas Parade.
"Volunteering in the community has influenced my college experience academically, socially and personally," said sophomore Amy Van Pelt, the 2012-13 Volunteer Oxford coordinator. "It has enhanced my understanding of topics taught in humanities classes, enabled me to form meaningful relationships with people of the same nature and strengthened my creativity in regard to incorporating service into my other passions."