The start of a college career can feel like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Students are facing a host of new decisions, all while meeting dozens of new people and navigating an unfamiliar location. The First Year Day of Service, taking place on September 1 this year, helps students to make new connections and learn more about their new community, all while making a difference for North Shore organizations.
Now in its second year, the First Year Day of Service is an opportunity for 200 first-year and new transfer students to spend the day volunteering on a service project in Salem or a neighboring community. Faculty, staff, alumni and upperclassman work alongside first-year students to form connections, serve their communities and have fun. Dozens of community partners, from public schools to environmental groups, arts foundations and mentoring organizations receive a group of enthusiastic volunteers to connect with their mission and complete much-needed projects.
Finding a Sense of Place
“Research says that engagement in your community helps students to acclimate faster, form connections and develop a sense of place,” said first year experience director Mathew Chetnik. Results from last year’s inaugural event demonstrate that the group who participated had a higher GPA, retention rate and level of community involvement than the general first-year population.
Simply starting off the year with a couple of familiar faces can make a huge difference. “At the end of the day, if students find one person that they can eat lunch with, it feels like a success,” said Cynthia Lynch, director of the Center for Civic Engagement.
A Connection to Salem
The program received an overwhelmingly positive response from the Salem community. Volunteers in Salem State gear were spotted around town painting, cleaning, throwing an end-of-summer picnic for a mentoring organization, prepping classrooms for the first day of school, and so much more. Several students asked for volunteer applications to continue their service after the day was over. Community partners reported that students were enthusiastic, organized and thoughtful, and a number of additional organizations have reached out to participate in 2017.
“The City of Salem is proud to serve as host to a first-class university and enjoys welcoming new students to our city each year,” said Kim Driscoll ’89. “We have a strong working partnership between the city and the university and a number of nonprofits in need of volunteers. Seeing these come together in a way that benefits all involved is exactly the kind of community connection that we want to continue fostering. As a proud Salem State graduate, I know that college is an important time to develop a commitment to civic engagement and leadership. This program is a great way to cultivate students’ interests in being involved in their communities, while also introducing them to all that the North Shore has to offer and providing needed services to organizations that do much good.”
Advice for the Incoming Class
Cynthia Lynch reminds this year’s incoming volunteers to try to stay in the moment as they embark on their service journeys. For those who may be apprehensive as they start the day, she reminds volunteers that “the project is guided, and we’ll have leaders there helping you every step of the way.”
The 200 volunteer spaces filled up well ahead of this year’s event, but first-year students who are unable to participate will find a number of opportunities to start their Salem State experience with new and meaningful connections. On the second day of classes, the student employment and volunteer fair gives students a chance to find work and volunteer options they’ll love. The following Monday, the student involvement fair showcases all of the groups and clubs to join on campus.
The First Year Day of Service is sponsored by St. Jean’s Credit Union and Chartwells.