Days of service add new dimension to SMU United Way campaign

After exceeding its 2011 fund-raising goals and passing the $70,000 mark for the first time in its history, SMU’s United Way campaign set out in 2012 to show first-hand how those gifts are put to use in the community.

About 25 faculty, staff and student volunteers met during the Spring 2012 term for a few hours of service at the Salvation Army’s Carr P. Collins Social Services Center near Parkland Memorial Hospital. Mustang Express operator Buses By Bill provided transportation for the group to spend the lunchtime hours serving meals in the facility’s dining room.

Their clients included participants in the Salvation Army’s programs for veterans, the homeless, and adult drug and alcohol rehabilitation. As they served trays of burgers, beans and green salad for three separate lunch shifts, the SMU volunteers also had the opportunity to meet fellow community members who benefit directly from the Salvation Army’s efforts.

“This is an opportunity for us at SMU to keep our United Way campaign going year-round,” says Jeff Strese, the University’s executive director of human resources. “We’re trying to show our support back to the community, because the community does so much to support SMU.”

One SMU participant found a new call to service. When she learned that the Salvation Army provides housing and other services to veterans, “I felt drawn to volunteer,” says Abigail Smith, associate director of Graduate Student Experience and Enrollment in the Lyle School of Engineering and 2012-13 Staff Association president. ”Being married to a disabled veteran has made me keenly aware of the needs of this group of heroes. I wanted to have an opportunity to brighten their lives in some way.”

She found it through Nancy Kerley, volunteer coordinator at the Carr P. Collins Service Center. Smith now hosts a monthly party for veterans who celebrate a birthday during that month. “I’ve become the Birthday Lady,” Smith says with a smile. “We have cake and punch, and I provide a gift bag for each one. We have a great time laughing and teasing each other. It feels like a birthday party I would have with my family.”

Community service has just as big an impact on students, says Jennifer (JJ) Jones of Student Development and Programs. “We hear them say all the time that hands-on experience changes their lives,” she says. “And as they go out into the city to do service, it changes their perspectives. It shows them what giving their time and energy can do for a community.”

SMU’s 2011 United Way campaign ended with $70,723 raised, exceeding its fund-raising goal of $70,000. In fall 2012, the University’s United Way Committee plans to create more faculty-staff volunteer service opportunities with agencies that may include Goodwill Industries, Children’s Medical CenterDallas Lighthouse for the Blind and other United Way partner agencies, says 2012-13 Faculty Senate President Steve Edwards, director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute and co-chair of SMU’s 2012 United Way campaign.

The idea of a year-long campaign springs from the goal of better involving the campus community in its progress, he adds. “We want people to understand better what the United Way does and how we can be a part of that.”

To that end, the committee plans to communicate more often with faculty and staff about goals, volunteer efforts and other opportunities, Edwards says. “We want our campus community members to see that they’re making an impact, and what that impact is.”

The volunteering experience “really opened my eyes to all the diverse communities within the Salvation Army who are served within one local center,” says Denton Bricker, McFarlin Auditorium manager and 2012 United Way campaign co-chair. “Even though we were only there for a couple of hours, we met so many people whose day we made a little better.”

SMU’s 2012 United Way campaign launches Wednesday, Oct. 17. The committee will share news about upcoming United Way service opportunities and volunteer profiles throughout the Fall 2012 term.