UTPA receives grant for the creation of a volunteer program
By Melissa C. Rodriguez , Public Affairs Specialist
Posted: 02/21/2005
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Faculty and students at The University of Texas-Pan American will have the opportunity starting fall 2005 to participate in a new Volunteer Resource Program made possible by a grant recently received by the Southwest Border Nonprofit Resource Center.

UTPA’s Southwest Border Nonprofit Resource Center (SBNRC) was awarded a $388,848 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service for the development of the program. Out of 1,050 applicants, the SBNRC at UTPA was the only higher education facility in the nation to receive the grant and the only grantee from Texas.

The SBNRC provides assistance to nonprofit organizations in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas through consulting, board leadership, grantwriting assistance, strategic-planning training and technology workshops.

The newly funded volunteer program will enable nonprofits to recruit University students and community members who will have the opportunity to be matched with nonprofit organizations which will complement their skills.

Details about the program and possible implementation of volunteering through service learning are still being developed. Service learning is a method which helps students learn through active participation in organized volunteering which meets both the needs of the community and enhances academic curriculum. The service learning component of the program is expected to be in place by fall 2005.

Flor Zamora, special projects coordinator for the SBNRC, said the grantors wanted to see UTPA faculty involve their classes in the new volunteer program.

“Students will be able to take theories they learn in the classroom and put the theories into practice through service to the community,” Zamora said. “Students also get the opportunity to fortify an organization which directly works with local residents.”

The goal of the program is to attract volunteers, such as students and Winter Texans, and adequately place them into long-term volunteer positions.

“We are trying to reach underclassmen in particular, because many of the upperclassmen are already committed to an internship in their upper level courses,” Zamora said. “We are targeting sophomores, but any interested student is encouraged to volunteer.”

Recently the staff at the SBNRC presented the service-learning concept to a few faculty members on campus. Zamora said she hopes professors will become involved in the program and develop service-learning components as part of their academic courses, or give incentives to students who participate in service-learning activities.

Kenan Tas, special projects coordinator for the SBNRC, said he wants to establish a tradition of volunteerism by UTPA students.

“We hope to reach out to students majoring in business, marketing, engineering and others who can work from their home or dorm to volunteer,” Tas said. “They can work from their computer and produce graphic designs including fliers and Web pages, create survey questionnaires and establish databases of clients. Students can volunteer their time virtually if they cannot volunteer physically.”

Zamora said the help by students will benefit grassroots nonprofit organizations which are typically underfunded and do not have the capability to hire staff. There is an expressed need for many areas of skill, specifically technological assistance among nonprofits, she said.

“Many times these organizations do not have the money to pay for services which students at UTPA may be able to provide based on their training in the classroom,” Zamora said.

Some of the organizations that will be working closely with the program include CASA of Hidalgo, a child advocacy group for children of abuse or neglect situations; the Pharr Literacy Center, an organization which promotes literacy through language arts and math tutoring, as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) classes; Estrella’s House, an Edinburg organization which provides family support services for youth who are encountering problems related to child abuse; and In His Hands Ministry, a faith-based organization which helps families in the Mission and Alton area who are below the poverty level with housing issues and tutoring services.

Dr. Bruce Reed, interim dean and professor in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, said in disciplines such as his, where there are people in need, learning from community service will only complement traditional classroom learning.

“I think it’s important for students to be involved in their communities and learn by doing and giving of themselves,” Reed said. “Some things such as empathy and caring cannot be taught as well in the classroom.”

As faculty we should want to be part of a learning experience that goes beyond books, lectures, and labs and involves our community, he said.

“The giving of yourself to others because it’s the right thing to do (and it feels good) is hopefully a core value shared by many of us,” Reed said. “Many of us have been pleased to be able to attend and complete higher education; not everyone has this opportunity.”

For more information or if you would like to find out how to participate in the program, call Zamora at 956/292-7566.