After hours, faculty and staff give generously to community

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After hours, faculty and staff give generously to community


Campus--Community, Non-Profit, Events and Holidays--National Volunteer Week, Community Organizations, Faculty and Staff, Media--Inside Illinois


Working in shifts last week over a five-day span, an
estimated 1,400 volunteers from the Champaign-Urbana area
helped to build the PrairiePlay playground at Urbana's
Meadowbrook Park. Fittingly, the effort took place during
the 21st annual National Volunteer Week, a time for
recognizing volunteers around the country whose time and
energy help to sustain nonprofit community organizations.

Prominent among those lending a hand last week at
PrairiePlay were UI staff and faculty members like Larine
Cowan, assistant chancellor and interim director for
affirmative action. In Cowan's case, helping to build a
playground is just one of the ways in which she gives back
to her community.

Her other volunteer efforts have included eight years on the
Urban League of Champaign County's board of directors, long-
time service with the NAACP, a founding role in the Black
Community Network - black professionals who meet to discuss
ways of addressing community problems - not to mention her
work with the Canaan Missionary Baptist Church, the Boy
Scouts and the PTA.

"I grew up in a small community near Little Rock, Ark.,"
Cowan said. "My father was involved in community and church
activities, and that's stayed with me. When you're helping
others, you don't have time to worry about yourself. It's
also a learning experience - we learn by giving."

Cowan may be an especially dynamic example of the volunteer
spirit in action, but she is just one of thousands of UI
staff and faculty members who give of their time and money
each year in support of nonprofit organizations and
programs. A glance at the board of directors of virtually
any community organization in Champaign-Urbana, for example,
shows that the university is well represented in the
volunteer ranks.

To get a more precise sense of the UI's role in sustaining
the health of local organizations, consider the percentage
of nonprofit funding that comes from university personnel.
The United Way of Champaign County, for example, received
$423,000 from the Campus Charitable Fund Drive in 1994. That
amount represented about 20 percent of the United Way's
total funding of $2.2 million last year, according to UW
Campaign Director Sandra Alsop; indeed, it was the
organization's largest single source of funding.

The generosity of UI personnel is not limited to United Way-
affiliated agencies. The 1994 campus drive raised an
additional $257,000 that went to organizations not connected
with the United Way. These included groups such as the
Public Interest Fund of Illinois, a statewide umbrella
organization representing 29 nonprofit agencies engaged in a
variety of community activities, ranging from the Community
Recycling Center and the Champaign County Health Care
Consumers to the League of Women Voters and the NAACP. At
least one third of the $80,000 raised statewide by the
Public Interest Fund last year in payroll deductions came
from the UI, according to Judy Godwin, outreach director at
the Community Recycling Center.

In addition to giving money, however, UI personnel
contribute perhaps an even scarcer resource - their time.
This is especially noticeable in the composition of the
boards of directors that set policy and provide long-term
guidance for nonprofit organizations. For example, at least
65 staff and faculty members serve on the boards of the 35
affiliated agencies supported by the United Way of Champaign
County, according to the United Way's Alsop.

At some organizations, UI personnel make up a majority of
board members. Eight of the 13 members of the Community
Recycling Center's board work at the UI, for example,
including the board's president, Mark Rood, professor of
environmental engineering. At the Champaign County Humane
Society, nine of its 15 board members are UI personnel.

But considering the amount of time that nonprofit service
requires of already busy people, what drives volunteer
activists to involve themselves so deeply in their
communities? On the surface at least, their motivations seem
to vary widely, ranging from Cowan's desire to learn by
giving to Harriett Weatherford's love of animals.

Weatherford, associate vice chancellor for research, has
volunteered at the Champaign County Humane Society for eight
years. She's spent the last four as a board member.

During that time, Weatherford has helped to "foster" 200
animals. That is, she's taken in animals not yet ready to be
adopted, such as puppies or kittens, and she's cared for
them until they were old enough to be matched with a new

"I just really care about animals," Weatherford said.
"Beyond their intrinsic value, they do so much for people.
They're friends, they can teach children responsibility, and
they provide companionship. I do something every day for the
Humane Society. Even if I don't make it to the shelter, I
spend a couple of hours each day taking care of animals at
home. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of this. It
makes me happy to see animals placed in a good home."

Weatherford has found that many UI staff and faculty share
her love of animals and her willingness to contribute the
time and energy needed to keep an organization like the
Humane Society thriving. For example, each year during
Memorial Day weekend the Humane Society organizes a garage
sale at the Champaign County fairgrounds. "Several of us
take vacations from the university to work as volunteers at
the fairgrounds," she said. (This year's sale is scheduled
for May 26 and 27.)

But despite the seemingly diverse motivations that drive
their community involvement, most UI volunteers seem to
share one trait: They gain a sense of personal satisfaction
contributing to the betterment of others and serving causes
larger than themselves.

For Sandra Volk, coordinator of research programs in
chemistry at Roger Adams Lab, an interest in women's issues
and racial justice led to a three-year stint on the YWCA's
board, a term that just ended last week. Before her service
with the YWCA, she served on the state board of the League
of Women Voters. She remains active in many community and
church activities.

"I get involved out of a sense of doing something good for
the community," Volk said. "I volunteer as a way of giving
something back."

Indeed, UI volunteers tend to be enthusiastic in their
belief that the university can only benefit by encouraging
further community activity from its members.

"There's no better way of fulfilling a public service
mission than to volunteer," Weatherford said. "By
volunteering, we're giving to each other. We're forming a
circle with the community rather than setting up lines of


David Porreca


Inside Illinois, 1995/05-04-95


University of Illinois


May 4 1995





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David Porreca, "After hours, faculty and staff give generously to community ," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #209, http://www.eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/209 (accessed October 22, 2020).

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