By JoAnna LeFlore – Assistant News Editor
Volunteerism among college students has become a major influence in making a memorable college experience.
Pay isn’t usually part of the volunteer equation, but UNO’s Student Organizations and Leadership Programs likes to reward students for contributing to their communities.
SOLP makes note of student organizations and their efforts to get involved by holding a ceremony for awards such as “Organization of the Year” and “Community Service Outreach.” These awards are given based on many criteria, but the most important factor is the selfless character of today’s college generation.
Last year, more than 8 billion hours of service were donated to communities around the nation, according to the 2010 Volunteering in America report. UNO’s students were among the 63.4 million Americans age 16 and older who participated in these national efforts.
The UNO student chapter for the International Council for Exceptional Children, known as the Student Council for Exceptional Children, was awarded the “Organization of the Year” award from SOLP this year, and have since been busy continuing to volunteer.
UNO senior Meg Maher is the current chapter president. She said the group is the largest professional organization for education in the nation.
“I really have been looking for an organization where I could reach out to the community, but especially with children,” Maher said. “My passion is working with children with special needs. So as soon as I heard about this, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
The council partners with local groups focused on children with special needs and encourages educational activities.
They recently participated in the Buddy Walk with the Omaha Down Syndrome Parents’ Network fundraiser in October. Participants walked around the UNO campus and community, starting at the Eppley Administration Building. They continued around the Arts and Sciences Hall, through Elmwood Park, over the Dodge Street pedestrian bridge, through Memorial Park and back.
The council also held a holiday dinner and party for the Ollie Webb Center, a group that advocates the enrichment of lives of people with disabilities and family support.
The Association of Latino American Students received the award for Community Service Outreach Reach Out Program of the Year. ALAS took pride in its community with the Annual Graffiti Abatement in South Omaha.
Gabriel Gutierrez is the current president of ALAS. He said a few organizations in the Omaha area donated their time to paint over graffiti.
“This year we had around 30 students from UNO, Creighton and Omaha South High School,” Gutierrez said. “We all meet at Metro South Campus. We divide into teams and try to erase as much graffiti as possible.”
Gutierrez said most of the ALAS members are from South Omaha, and feel its good to give back to their community.
“It’s important to have pride in where you come from,” he said. “So by cleaning up graffiti, we’re trying to help other people be proud of South Omaha or where they come from, too.”