ORONO — In the typical college dorm, students who serve as resident assistants are key to fostering a sense of community among their live-in classmates.
A new University of Maine program aims to take that a step further by using RAs to connect students who live on campus with people in need in the greater community.
On Saturday, more than 100 RAs, graduate assistants and staff from UMaine’s Residence Life program spent the morning and afternoon volunteering at a handful of local community service organizations. The idea behind the first-ever Residence Life volunteer day was to forge a relationship between community groups, such as soup kitchens, and RAs that can continue throughout the year.
Jesse Priest and Josh Bernstein were among 19 RAs who spent several hours organizing, cleaning and painting in the basement of Crossroads Ministries Resource Center in Old Town. Crossroads is a nonprofit, faith-based organization that provides food, clothing, shelter and other services to those in need.
Priest, a 21-year-old senior from Farmington, said he can envision his floor in Estabrooke Hall and others “adopting” Crossroads, similar to the way groups adopt a specific stretch of highway. The program will help provide much-needed volunteers to Crossroads while giving students a way to give back.
There is a strong community service drive on campus, and freshmen are always looking for new experiences, Priest said.
“I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting people in our residence halls to come and do things like this,” said Priest.
Bernstein, who is in the university’s service learning office, said Saturday’s event was also a much better way for incoming RAs to get to know one another. “I thought it was a great idea,” said Bernstein, 21, from Nashua, N.H. “This is going to be a way for us to bond because we are working as a team.”
Barbara Rose, one of the Crossroads volunteers who helped direct the UM group’s efforts, said the center is often short on volunteers, so the students’ help — on Saturday and in the future — would make a big difference.
“They did an incredible job,” Rose said while looking around the cluttered but tidied basement. “We want to keep them.”
Residence Life volunteers also worked Saturday at the Bangor Humane Society, Manna Ministries, the River Coalition, Hands of Hope in Bangor and the Bangor Homeless Shelter.
AnneMarie Reed, associate director of Residence Life, said her office tried to identify sites where students could volunteer throughout the year. UMaine students are not required to perform community service — also known as service learning at many schools — but it is strongly encouraged.
Residence halls have organized charitable events centered on specific issues in recent years, such as fundraising for a sick child. But this is the first time the university has organized such a program to get students living in dorms involved in community service throughout the year, Reed said.