As students enjoyed spring break activities, including service-learning trips to Baltimore, Jamaica, Guatemala and hurricane-damaged communities in New York, about three dozen staff members participated in the WCU Staff Senate’s first Staff Days of Service event.
Members of Staff Senate worked with WCU’s Center for Service Learning to coordinate service activities on or near campus on Wednesday, March 27, and Thursday, March 28. The idea was to enable staff members to give back to the community while using their community service leave hours, said Robin Hitch, a computer consultant with Hunter Library and chair of Staff Senate. Staff members were invited to assist at a no-kill cat shelter and rescue center as well as the Sylva Community Garden and Sylva Community Table. They also were invited to take part in a highway cleanup on Old Cullowhee Road and write letters to military servicemen and servicewomen.
“The cats at Catman2 that got needed attention, the servicemen and servicewomen that will receive sentiments from home and all the local people that will be fed because of our volunteering efforts should make us all proud to be Catamounts,” said Hitch.
Staff Senate’s public relations subcommittee came up with the Days of Service concept, and the subcommittee’s chair, Alison Joseph, and Jen Nickel, who works in the Center for Service Learning, presented the idea to the group.
During the days of service activities, three staff members spent two hours on Old Cullowhee Road picking up three bags of trash, one bag of recyclables and a “big old pipe,” said Adam Bigelow, who coordinates Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor’s landscaping and beautification efforts. Mary Jean Herzog, CuRvE chair and chair of WCU’s Faculty Senate, said WCU groups regularly participate in CuRvE’s beautification and trash clean-up service projects. Often, they come away with a deeper understanding of the need to be active in their community and dispose of trash properly, as well as enthusiasm for what is possible in the Cullowhee area, said Herzog.
Amy Grimes, executive director of Community Table and WCU alumna, said she is always grateful for help from WCU staff, faculty and students. The organization has only two employees and depends on volunteers to carry out the mission of providing nutritious meals to neighbors in need in a welcoming environment, said Grimes.
“It means so much to see faculty and staff donating their time to fight hunger in Jackson County,” she said. “It also provides a great example for students to get involved in important causes and to become a part of their larger community off campus. WCU staff member Brain Boyer brings students from his Band of Brothers class to volunteer each Friday afternoon. This is often a very eye-opening experience for the students and makes a lifelong impact on core values.”
For the card-making activity, Lisa Winders, director of military student services, connected WCU with Operation North State, a nonprofit organization that offers military support service programs within North Carolina. Terry Snyder, a WCU alumnus and the organization’s founder and chairman, said the timing was perfect as he had just been contacted about helping a special forces unit.
Among the 14 staff members who together wrote 100 cards and letters during Days of Service was Meg White, development director. “In my letters, I talked about how sometimes when I drive to work, and I’m looking around and appreciating all of the beauty, that I am thankful for those people that keep me, my coworkers and my family safe; that we appreciate their service; and that we are proud,” said White.
Sarah Speed, a business analyst in the Division of Information Technology, said the activity not only enabled her to meet staff members from across campus, but also to serve in a way that is important to her. “I tried to convey my gratitude for their courage and commitment, and also let them know how their service inspires me to be more active in my local community,” said Speed. “I have two brothers-in-law in the military, so I know how much it means to those deployed overseas to be supported back home.”
The letters will be included in care packages to the soldiers. Snyder said he and his wife, WCU alumna Dawn Eldridge, are honored that people from their alma mater took time to help Operation North State help others.
“Several times a week, we receive requests from chaplains or platoon leaders requesting our assistance in providing items or messages to help lift the spirits of the men and women in their respective units,” said Snyder. “It means the world to these servicemen and servicewomen that total strangers – especially from the home state – have taken the time to reach out to them showing support and gratitude for their service to our great country.”
By Teresa Killian Tate