CONWAY — Jimmy Turnmeyer, a junior at Coastal Carolina University, explained to his Delta Chi fraternity brothers how he scored washer/dryer boxes from Lowe's as he assembled and taped the one he would sleep in Thursday night on Prince Lawn.
"We're all coming out and trying to support Katie," said Turnmeyer of Katie Zahm, volunteer coordinator at CCU's Volunteer Services Center, who arranged the university's first Chanty Town.
The event, held from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., was meant to give students a taste of what it's like to be homeless. It is one of several that have been held on campus as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, an initiative at colleges across the country to spur action on those issues.
"We make an effort to do as much philanthropy as possible," said senior and fraternity member Mike Smith. "We're trying to destroy that image" of fraternity members who are only interested in drinking and parties.
Turnmeyer and Smith's "party" would consist of a comfy night's sleep in their boxes, which would be arranged in a circle along with those of their fraternity brothers. They would be dining on water and hot vegetable soup as the temperature dropped into the 30s overnight.
While the awareness week is part of a national campaign, all of the related CCU events were spearheaded by the Volunteer Services Center, one of the best-kept secrets on campus. Through the center, students are matched to volunteer opportunities in the community that best align with their talents and interests.
"My whole push is, everyone can make a difference. Turn your passion into impact," Zahm said.
According to the university's website, student volunteers can give area nonprofit organizations the help they need in areas that range from AIDS to animals. In return, the act of helping others broadens the student experience, strengthens citizenship skills, teaches students how to be proactive and make a difference, as well as providing another element to list on a resume.
It's a win-win across the board.
Joy Hanner, the new executive director at Street Reach Ministries, said CCU is a new resource for her agency, and they are partnering on the organization's current drive to collect blankets, coats and tarps.
"I'm just a firm believer that you can't be an island unto yourself," Hanner said. "We share our resources and certainly try to get the word out."
Hanner was on hand at Chanty Town to share with participants what homelessness looks like these days and to clear up misconceptions.
"We are seeing a dramatic increase in need," Hanner said of those who come to Street Reach for the evening meal, as well as those who need a place to stay overnight. "We have folks that look like you and me ... There's no respecter of age, no respecter of background."
Zahm said in addition to community outreach, her office creates on-campus service activities, a volunteer fair twice a year and aids other student organizations, such as fraternities and sororities, which sponsor their own philanthropy projects as part of their national affiliations.
Zahm said her job doesn't end at the weekend, and she works many Saturdays with groups such as Students Taking Active Responsibility, or STAR, a service group for students, faculty and staff. Zahm said the group has about 25 consistently active members of about 90 who are registered.
STAR takes service well beyond Horry County with two service trips a year. Zahm said this year, they will go to Florida to aid Give Kids the World, a project that brings children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to the attractions around the Orlando area, within 24 hours if needed. Over spring break, STAR will work with Habitat for Humanity.
"They're wonderful," said Tabby Shelton, executive director of Fostering Hope, of her student volunteers. Shelton's organization in Conway provides basic needs for kids who are brought to foster care, and she said she appreciates the help from the university. Students help with everything from sorting clothes to pumpkin-decorating and carnivals.
"I've always tried to be involved [with CCU] in different ways," said Shelton, who is a CCU graduate, along with her husband. "We are trying to give out experience as well as a gift [to the kids]," such as a fishing trip instead of a toy truck, and she said many of their outings are to CCU, especially for the teenagers. She said having events with the students, meeting the football players and having interaction helps the teens realize that college is an accessible option for them.
The Volunteer Services Center was started four years ago and is funded by a grant, said Zahm, who is with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a national service program. She said the center operates under the S.C. Campus Compact, which is an association of 13 colleges in the state that promotes civic engagement in higher education.
The center began as part of the Multicultural Student Services division but moved two years ago to the Office of Student Activities and Leadership. Zahm said the center's grant must be renewed every three years, and at last year's renewal, they were allowed a second volunteer coordinator, Zane Boren.
"We did not have funding to hire a person, so we looked to AmeriCorps VISTA," said Patricia Singleton-Young, director of CCU's Multicultural Student Services and an early adviser for the center. "We've been very, very lucky in getting the grant."
Singleton-Young said that while AmeriCorps VISTA supplies the employees, CCU supplies in-kind services, such as office space and money for projects. She said having the center gives nonprofits a vehicle for reaching students, it gives CCU an office that can track all student volunteer services under one umbrella, and that projects such as the shelter building for Haiti relief have brought a lot of positive publicity for the campus.
According to Zahm, students put in 22,147 hours of community service in the 2008-09 school year, which included student conduct hours that were doled out for missteps. In 2009-10, the number of student service hours, which did not include student conduct hours, rose to 29,802.
While participation is increasing, Zahm acknowledges that the center is still a relatively new program that is unknown not only to students, but to faculty and staff. She said she regularly raises awareness by sending e-mails, talking to students in first-year experience classes and encouraging faculty members to use service learning in classes by developing projects that relate to a community component.
"I'm really focused on the community here," Zahm said. "It needs to be served."
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401.