Whether packing up donated food, working with nursery school children on a winter craft or tutoring middle school students after school, Princeton University students, staff and faculty have been busy this January engaging with the local community as a part of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement's Month of Service.
Themed around the idea that "community matters," the Month of Service celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 15th anniversary of the Pace Center.
"Community is at the heart of meaningful service," said Kimberly de los Santos, the John C. Bogle '51 and Burton G. Malkiel *64 Executive Director of the Pace Center. "Engaging in meaningful service calls on us to listen to and understand the needs of the communities we aim to serve. It also builds a community of students, friends and allies ready to respond to the needs of those in the world around us."
Each week in January, the University community has been invited to take part in a range of service experiences, conversations and workshops with the Pace Center and its student programs. Volunteers joined the Pace Center's ongoing student service efforts, took part in a Volunteer 101 Workshop and discussed what it means to belong to a community in a new Civil Dialogue series, among other activities.
"We are grateful for everyone who has participated in Month of Service with us and hope the energy generated this month will carry through the rest of the year and beyond," said de los Santos. "We are looking forward to making each January at Princeton a time for service, learning and reflection."
On Sunday, Jan. 17, more than a dozen students and community members joined together at a Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Event. The event was organized by Princeton Against Global Hunger, a new Pace Center student organization, and Community House, a Pace Center program that works with families to bolster the academic success and social and emotional wellbeing of underrepresented youth in Princeton. Participants readied 176 pounds of food collected across campus and donated by the Target store in West Windsor, New Jersey, for delivery to the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County and the Cornerstone Community Kitchen, which is run by the Princeton United Methodist Church. The group also discussed what it means to be hungry in New Jersey and the United States.
"Forty-nine million people struggle with hunger in the U.S.," said Myesha Jemison, a sophomore and student volunteer with Community House. "It's not caused by the same factors as many other countries where there isn't enough food. Here a lot of the issues of hunger are connected to poverty."
Jemison said more than 450 children in Princeton receive free or reduced-price lunch and more than 900,000 people in New Jersey do not have access to supermarkets that have fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products.
"In Trenton, there's only one full-size supermarket in the city," added Kevin Sallah, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and co-founder of Princeton Against Global Hunger — a point he learned while attending Food for Thought, a dinner discussion on Thursday, Jan. 14, about the politics of hunger. Phyllis Stoolmacher, director of development at Mercer Street Friends in Ewing, spoke at the event organized by the Pace Center's Student Volunteers Council and Pace Council for Civic Values.
"We may think we know what hunger is, but to have felt it is something else entirely," said Larry Apperson, of the Cornerstone Community Kitchen. "Most of us in an affluent community like Princeton don't know what it means to be really hungry for days, to be pushed to do things you might not normally do just to eat."
Volunteers expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in service, even if for just a few hours.
"Back in Hawaii I was involved with an organization called Family Promise that tackles some of these same issues [related to hunger and homelessness]," said Dean Rodan, a freshman. "Even though it's the middle of exam season, I wanted to try to do as much as I can with the small time I have."
"This semester I am teaching a class that's in part looking at whether we have enough agricultural resources to feed everyone," said Amanda Siemann, a graduate student from the Chicago area in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "The issue isn't so much about whether we have enough food, but how to get it where it needs to go. What could we do if we had better infrastructure?"
"I like to give back to the community as much as I can," said Nancy Kalmikoff, director of alumni donor records in the Office of Development, as she finished painting cabinets at Princeton Nursery School as part of the University's Martin Luther King Day of Service on Friday, Jan. 15. "One more person can make a difference and I'm happy to be one of those people. I also enjoyed meeting other people from across campus that I normally might not have the opportunity to meet. It's a nice blending of the Princeton community."
In addition to activities organized by the Pace Center, Month of Service encouraged the campus community to use #PrincetonUServes to share all the ways the University is giving back and working with the local community in January. Some of these additional opportunities include:
• Community and Regional Affairs' annual Business Clothing Drive and Stuffed Animal Drive happening now through Wednesday, Jan. 27. The clothing drive benefits HomeFront's Suitably Dressed, Mercer County Community College's Career Training Institute, Operation Fatherhood of Trenton, and Isles Inc., all Mercer County organizations that collect "gently used" business attire for men and women. The stuffed toys will be donated to Glad Dogs Nation, an organization that creates safe dog toys from old, unwanted children's stuffed toys.
• The University's Academic Managers Group is running a Children's Book Drive now through Jan. 31 to benefit Princeton Nursery School. The group is seeking new and gently used children's books for children ages 2 through 5. Books are being collected at the following locations: 129B Dickinson Hall, 105 McCormick Hall, 306 Marx Hall, 422 Robertson Hall and 302 Fine Hall.
• Forbes College encouraged its students to decorate brown paper bags to create cheerful lunches for children and their families through the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. An initiative of the Forbes Leadership Series, volunteers are also encouraged to come to the Forbes dining hall on Sunday, Jan. 31, from 2 to 4 p.m. to join the Forbes "filling team" of students, faculty and staff in filling the bags with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, juice and healthy snacks.
• The Princeton University men's basketball team volunteered to run a youth clinic for the Dillon Youth Basketball League organized by the Princeton Recreation Department. Seventy children, ages 12 and under, took part in the free clinic from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 17.
• Career Services is partnering with One Simple Wish in Trenton to conduct career advising sessions with youth aging out of foster care.
With one week left, there are still a variety of ways to take part in Month of Service. Students, staff and faculty can volunteer with Community House's after school program for middle school students from Monday, Jan. 25 through Thursday, Jan. 28. The campus community can also learn how to "Be in the nation's service" with Pace Center Assistant Director Charlotte Collins, as she leads a workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. in the Hope Foundation Tutoring Center on the third floor of 58 Prospect Ave., using the Field Guide to Service, a soon-to-be-released hands-on guide developed by the Pace Center to help the Princeton community learn to do service well and have a positive impact in the community.
Month of Service will wrap up with a special open house at the Pace Center on Thursday, Feb. 4, from 2 to 5 p.m. in Frist 201A. The entire campus community is welcome to join Month of Service participants for light refreshments and conversation.
Faculty interested in learning how to incorporate service and civic engagement in their courses can attend a Faculty Forum on Thursday, Feb. 4, from 12 to 1:20 p.m. in Frist 330. The forum, organized by the University’s Service and Civic Engagement Steering Committee, is sponsored by the Community-Based Learning Initiative, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and the Pace Center. Undergraduate and graduate students looking to extend their service can find a service project or student organization of interest at the Pace Center's Spring Service Kickoff on Tuesday, Feb. 9, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the 100 Level of the Frist Campus Center.