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.

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