By Hilary Wilken, Contributor
This special section of the Gateway, which features stories on UNO students and faculty who volunteer, was submitted by the School of Communication’s “News Writing and Reporting” students, under the supervision of Professor Kevin Warneke.
When Sara Woods needs motivation, she remembers the efforts of a few women who started the Neighborhood Center.
Woods, assistant dean in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, said her most meaningful volunteer experience was a university partnership with this organization.
A retired woman in north Omaha knew the children in her apartment complex were unsupervised so she and a few others started an after-school program.
“Never underestimate what a few people can do when they care enough,” Woods said.
Woods, a 35-year UNO employee, is responsible for the university’s launch of the Community Engagement Center, the only university-wide, freestanding building dedicated to community response and engagement in the nation.
The center will positively affect the community by engaging faculty, staff and students, Woods said. She added that engaged students have better work output, better academic retention and are better citizens.
Volunteering, Woods said, demonstrates that students are prepared for professional work and it makes them more competitive employment candidates. Faculty who volunteer not only contribute to the society, but also produce more meaningful teaching.
“Volunteering is a responsibility we have as citizens,” Woods said.
Woods represents the university on a number of boards, including ServeNebraska, The Women’s Fund of Omaha and Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
Jamie Moore, ServeNebraska chair, said Woods is one of 20 appointed ServeNebraska commissioners. Woods is a representative for higher education on the AmeriCorp and National Service Committee, a ServeNebraska subcommittee that oversees 95 Nebraska AmeriCorp program sites.
The specific skills Woods brings to these programs is valuable, Moore said. Coming from the arena of higher education, Woods is a link to increase university involvement in volunteering and community service.
“She has been very, very involved in the community as a volunteer and she brings a wealth of knowledge from resource development,” Moore said. “We are appreciative to have Sara on the commission.”
Woods said she enjoys serving on boards and she sees herself most effective in board leadership because she can help nonprofit and engagement organizations develop effective leadership and sustainability.
Woods also serves on the board for the Phoenix Academy, a local phonics-based academic program. Woods said she is on the board because she wants to give back to the organization that helped her children learn to read.
“None of us go a day without being served by a nonprofit,” Woods said. “We all have a responsibility to support them.