Service Day Improves Children’s Quality of Learning

Dayani Pieri

NEIU students and faculty performing community service.
Photo by Veronica Rodriguez

Service Day was initiated by the Student Leadership Development (SLD) office of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) to increase civic engagement among students, faculty and community members. This year’s event was coordinated by Barb Cosentino, the Associate Director of SLD. This year, “we teamed up with alumni affairs,” stated Veronica Rodriguez, Interim Director of SLD, who recruited volunteers for the event. The purpose was to involve both students and alumni in serving their community. According to Rodriguez, this was the second year that the event was held on a Saturday. SLD plans to have more service days in the near future, including one in January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

On the morning of September 28, a group of 34 NEIU students and staff gathered at the Alumni Center for coffee and breakfast around 8:30 a.m. The group included members from Alumni Association, Green Cycle Group, Sigma Lambda Gamma, Sigma Gamma Rho, Gamma Phi Omega, Theta Chi Omega, Iota Phi Theta and others. After a group picture and briefing, the volunteers were divided into two groups and sent out to two Chicago Public Schools: Volta Elementary and Stewart School.

At Volta, 18 volunteers painted the outside of the preschool building including windows, trims, doors, and ramps. They were joined by several 8th-grade students who assisted in accomplishing the task of beautifying the exterior of the learning environment.

The connection with Stewart School was made by Hellen Antonopoulos, the Clinical Manager for School Based Services at SGA (Scholarship & Guidance Association) Youth and Family Services. Antonopoulos has worked previously with Rodriguez and NEIU volunteers to help SGA Partner Schools in Chicago’s South Shore Community during their spring break. Last year’s Service Day volunteers helped Clinton Elementary School “clear a garden and plant spring bulbs.” NEIU’s “commitment to service-learning and social justice” which tally with the agency’s commitment to “improving the quality of life of students and families,” and the proximity to its partner schools initiated the decision to invite NEIU yet again to serve its community. The volunteers assisted in the preparation of the reopening of a library at Stewart School which had not been functioning for the past 3 years. These events, according to Antonopoulos, help schools “connect with the community members and resources that help improve the quality of learning and living.”

The newly hired Librarian of Stewart School, Susan Stone, is an experienced English, speech, and drama teacher, as well as a director and a professional storyteller. According to Stone, the longer school day enabled the funding for her employment. She taught the 16 NEIU helpers to bar-code, and weed books in order to prepare the library and make it attractive to the students. The 17 boxes of weeded books will be sold to Stewart students at a rate of 25 cents per book or 5 books per $1. The volunteers also cleaned shelves and organized books. Stone had much work ahead of her to get the library up and running. After a delicious pizza lunch, some decided to spend more time to assist Ms. Stone in further preparing the library. “We could not have been half as efficient,” says Stone as she thanked the volunteers “from the bottom of my (her) heart and from Stewart School.”

Rodriguez, Antonopoulos and Stone were pleased and exclaimed that the day was a great success. The volunteers enjoyed contributing together for the betterment of these children’s lives and learning. Due to the success of this event, the Alumni Association has decided to create ongoing service activities to engage students and alum in their community. Antonopoulos and her organization look forward to working “more closely and more often with the university” to improve the learning and the lives of children in NEIU’s neighboring community.