UND students from all areas of campus come together to build community based on giving back
When Evan Marian first stepped on campus from Burnsville, Minn., he was doing just that — stepping. The computer science and mathematics major came to UND with no set of wheels to get him around town.
“I was in the Honors Program and I had to do volunteer work, but I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any way of getting there,” Marian remembered. “I always wanted someone I could volunteer with and get a ride with.”
Marian wanted to find a way to make volunteering easier and more social. When he ran into two others on campus with that same vision, Volunteers Together started to take form.
“The main thing we set out to do is bridge the gap between the community and the students at UND,” said Volunteers Together co-founder Atle Alexander Johansen, an accounting major from Drammen, Norway. He and Ayla Rubenstein, a psychology, classical languages and Honors major from Lake Elmo, Minn., have been putting together the blueprints of this effort since last year. Those plans came together in December, with a recruiting push that started in February.
Although Volunteers Together won’t be an official UND student organization until the fall, Johansen said the interest has already been overwhelming.
“There’s a huge need, especially in Greek organizations because they all need volunteering hours,” he said. “Once we hit 75 members, we’re going to invite all of those members to a Facebook group and really start an online networking community. They can talk to each other about upcoming events and where they can carpool. That’s where the whole concept of ‘Volunteers Together’ comes in.”
Right now, students can become involved in the organization by signing up online to receive emails and newsletters describing volunteer opportunities around Grand Forks. There are no requirements to join and no minimum service hours are necessary.
“Through the Honors Program, Ayla and I saw that if you remove the requirement factor, people actually volunteer more,” Johansen explained.
Giving back to Grand Forks
You can find Rubenstein any given day donating her time to the North Dakota Museum of Art on the UND campus — just one of many organizations she’s assisted. “I’ve always volunteered, for as long as I can remember. It’s always been such a part of my life. I deeply enjoy it,” she said, unable to suppress a grin.
Johansen said it was Rubenstein who introduced him to the fulfillment of giving back. “It’s really changed a lot for me, and I think for Ayla, too,” he said.
When the duo decided it was time to keep that chain going and open the eyes of others to the benefits of volunteerism, they knew who the main beneficiary should be: the City of Grand Forks.
“It’s a college town, and sometimes maybe students forget that everything the town does is for the college, because everything kind of revolves around it,” Rubenstein explained. “It’s important that we remember to give back to the community that gives so much to us.”
Director of International Programs Katie Davidson, who has been advising the group’s leadership team, sees Volunteers Today as a way for students to build volunteering into their lives while they are young. “These students are motivated, full of ideas and want to give back to the community,” Davidson said. “I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished so far and look forward to seeing what they do in the next few years.”
“We have been hearing a lot of words of support,” Rubenstein said. “People tell us we’re doing great things and that they really think this is going to take off.”
The Volunteers Together leadership team is currently targeting certain markets for recruitment by presenting to Greek houses, talking with UND Student Ambassadors and finding groups who need to fulfill service hour requirements. A welcome packet, soon to be available for new members, will include a pamphlet of all the local organizations looking for volunteers.
The team has been working with the Student Involvement Office to draft a constitution and complete all of the paperwork necessary to be a true student organization. They are also developing student liaison positions to work directly with non-profits, building leadership experiences in the process.
“Right now, we’re really just trying to build our foundation,” Marian said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the community that I hope that we can provide and see people truly volunteering together.”
by Kaylee Cusack