University of Alabama Student Organizes Relief Effort for Hurricane Laura Victims

In the early morning hours of Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura ripped through Louisiana. Five hundred miles away in Tuscaloosa, Kana Webb, a sophomore at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Alabama, watched live coverage as the town where she grew up was torn apart.

“Hurricane Laura devastated my hometown of Lake Charles and the surrounding areas,” the biology major said. “There are people who lost everything, people who have nothing—no running water, no power. Some aren’t expected to have power back until November. Where do you go from there?”

Related: University of Alabama senior creates greeting cards to cheer up residents of nursing homes

Among those dealing with significant damage was Webb’s grandmother, whose house was flooded and struck by a tree. The material loss was great, but it’s much deeper than that.

“My grandmother and so many others are struggling with the emotional side of this,” said Webb. “There’s so much more to it than a house. It’s a home, and it has so many memories with it. Financial issues aside, there’s an emotional aspect to losing a home and to losing everything that you have. There’s a sentimental side to it.”

As Webb watched the destruction of Hurricane Laura unfold on the news, she immediately started thinking of what she could do to help. “My heart broke for the people,” she said. “It broke for my family. I wished I could just hug them and everyone in my hometown in that moment.”

Being seven hours away from home prevented her from wrapping her arms around the people and town she loves, but she knew she had to do something. “With the limited resources available in Lake Charles following the hurricane, I figured the first thing I could do was organize a supply drive,” Webb said.

Related: University of Alabama honors two students and one administrator with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards

She reached out to her friends, sorority sisters and a few campus organizations she’s involved in, including the Student Government Association, the Panhellenic Association and the Center for Service and Leadership. “I was overwhelmed with the response that I received just from sending out a quick message to my friends and letting them know the situation,” she said.

A few days later, Webb packed a trailer full of supplies and headed out to deliver over $1,500 worth of donations to a local church in Lake Charles. “They were so grateful to have received all of that,” said Webb. “It was basic necessities, but those are the things they were running out of and needed most—toilet paper, hygiene products and water.”

That was only the beginning of Webb’s efforts. With the support of the SGA, the Panhellenic community, Beyond Bama and the Capstone College of Nursing, she is partnering with United Way of West Alabama to raise money for those impacted by Hurricane Laura and to aid in rebuilding.

“I’m having trouble putting into words how thankful I am,” Webb said. “I’m so grateful for my friends [and] for my new family at UA that has contributed and helped out in a time of such need for my hometown. Thank you to everyone who has offered donations, supplies or even just support. Y’all are all amazing, and I am so grateful, and so is Louisiana.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

Volunteerism for College Students: Turn Your New Year’s Resolution into a Lifelong Passion

According to research from the University of Scranton, only about 8 percent of Americans manage to keep their new year’s resolutions. That’s probably not the most encouraging (or surprising) statistic you’ll come across in 2020, but take heart: If you’ve added “serving others” to your list, there are plenty of ways you can keep that resolution as a college student in the Sullivan Foundation network. There’s a real demand for your talents, skills and energy, and it’s likely that your school can help you get started.

America’s young people are more interested in “doing good” than ever, according to a 2018 report by the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland School of Policy. Unfortunately, volunteerism for college students and high school students remains stagnant nationwide.

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers opportunity to serve those in need in Selma, Alabama

On average, 26 percent of college students provided volunteer service to community organizations between 2013 and 2015, while 28.5 percent of high schoolers took part in service activities. Those figures are “significantly lower” than statistics recorded for the years right after 9/11 (2002-2005), the Do Good Institute report states. Even so, nearly 2.8 million high school students (age 15 and over) and 3.1 million college students volunteered in their communities between 2013 and 2015. Not too shabby!

this photo illustrates the possibilities of volunteerism for college students at Warren-Wilson College

Warren-Wilson College puts a strong emphasis on volunteerism for college students through programs like Bounty & Soul, which increases access to healthy foods in food-insecure communities.

As Fast Company has reported, more than three quarters of entering college students feel a duty to help others in need—and that number has been steadily growing. “We’re at an all-time high of entering college students’ desire to do good, but we are far from an all-time high in college students actually doing good,” Robert Grimm, the Do Good Institute’s director, told Fast Company.

So why the disconnect? One problem, as Fast Company points out, is that many college students are in financial need themselves. College and university expenses have soared for the past 20 years, according to U.S. News and World Report. The average in-state tuition and fees at public national universities (defined as research-oriented schools that offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees) has climbed by 221 percent. For private national colleges and universities, tuition and fees have jumped 154 percent, and out-of-state tuition and fees at public national schools have gone up 181 percent.

Related: University of the Cumberlands collects 21,764 pounds of food for local pantries

But Grimm suspects there’s more to it than that. “Youth’s historically high interest in doing good will not automatically translate into action without the right opportunities,” he states in the Do Good Institute report. “We need more innovative, educational experiences that offer youth the opportunity to make an impact today and spark a lifetime of community engagement.”

Fortunately, volunteerism for college students is strongly encouraged at many of the Sullivan Foundation’s partner schools. Judson College, for example, kicks off every new school year with Marion Matters, a community-wide day of service for the local schools, nursing homes, churches and a nature preserve. At Mercer University, students are encouraged to volunteer for nonprofits like Loaves & Fishes, which provides food, clothing and furniture for local residents coping with homelessness and food insecurity;  Meals on Wheels of Macon & Bibb County, an organization that delivers nutritious meals to elderly and disabled individuals; and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Georgia.

this picture depicts volunteerism for college students at Campbell University

Campbell University’s Campus Kitchen encourages volunteerism for college students by transforming unused dining-services foods into meals for people in need.

At Warren-Wilson College, community engagement isn’t just recommended—it’s required. WWC treats volunteerism for college students as a “fierce obligation” and a must in order to earn their degree. WWC focuses on five issue areas: the environment, food security, housing and homelessness, race and immigration, and youth and education. Among its service opportunities are Bounty & Soul, an initiative that increases access to healthy foods for low-income communities; volunteering at an AHOPE day shelter or with Habitat for Humanity; and mentoring Latino youth in the public schools through the college’s MANOS (Mentoring and Nurturing Our Students) program.

Campbell University, meanwhile, offers a range of opportunities for students to help others, including the Campus Kitchen, which transforms unused foods from dining services into meals for families in need around Western Harnett County; the Mustard Seed Community Garden, which grows and provides foods for the Harnett Food Pantry; and the annual Spiritual Life Spring Fling, in which students take part in fun activities with Harnett County-area adults who have developmental disabilities.

Berry College also invites its students to volunteer with numerous local nonprofits, from the Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity to the Ruth and Naomi House, a local women’s shelter, and the North Broad Youth Center. And Carson-Newman University encourages students to give back through Appalachian Outreach, a poverty-relief ministry, as well as the Samaritan House Family Ministries and the Baptist Collegiate Ministries Outreach team.

Related: Carson-Newman University mobiles 500 volunteers for Operation Inasmuch


Carson-Newman University encourages students to volunteer with Appalachian Outreach, a poverty-relief ministry.

Volunteerism for college students can include individual activities as well, including:

  • Organizing a campus-wide blood drive
  • Tutoring at-risk youths in the community
  • Teaching English as a second language
  • Coaching a local kids’ sports team
  • Volunteering at an animal shelter
  • Participating in clean-up programs in local nature areas

Volunteering isn’t just good for the community. It provides benefits for the body, the soul and even your career, according to Reward Volunteers. Volunteerism for college students leads to “reduced stress, a greater degree of happiness, and development of social and professional skills.” Ninety-four percent of volunteers say volunteering improves their mood, while 96 percent say it gives them a greater sense of purpose.

So start out the spring semester by checking out your college or university’s community-engagement programs. Once you get started, volunteering is one new year’s resolution that you’ll want to keep for many years to come.