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Volunteerism rampant at Ozarks

November 27, 2001
By cnp
Posted in Community Service

Clarksville, Ark. --- Amanda Clifft does it by walking dogs at the animal shelter. George Pittenger delivers hot meals to the elderly. Kim Grigg tutors young students. Dr. Doug Jeffries restores a nature trail. Charles Hurley helps with paper work at the police department. And, Carlos Gonzalez provides translation services.

Those are just a few examples of the hundreds of volunteer services offered by Ozarks students, faculty and staff to the Clarksville community. Whether it’s coaching a youth soccer team, visiting the nursing home, reading for an elementary class, serving on a service organization board, or helping with a homeless shelter, the Ozarks family is quick to do its part to help the local community.    

"We as a community are very fortunate to have the University of the Ozarks," said Vicki Lyons, executive director of the Clarksville/Johnson County Chamber of Commerce. "We are extremely proud to have a university that gives 110 percent back to the community it lives in."    

Ozarks stresses community service and volunteerism throughout its campus. For example, several scholarships require a certain number of hours of community service each semester. Some classes also require volunteer service.    

Clifft, a freshman pre-med major from Little Rock, volunteers at the Needy Paws Animal Shelter, where she helps care for the animals.   "I got involved in that because of my scholarship, but I’ve grown to enjoy it and to understand the importance of volunteering," Clifft said. "My two brothers went to Northwestern Louisiana University, and they didn’t have any emphasis on community service there. I think they missed out on an important aspect of education."    

It is that type of attitude that has Ozarks President Dr. Rick Niece excited not only about the university’s role in helping the community, but also about the lessons that volunteerism is helping teach students.   "Promoting the importance of serving others is Biblically sound advice," Niece said. "At Ozarks, our actions match our words. I am proud of what members of our Ozarks’ community do for the local community. And I am confident that after our students graduate, they will promote the value of service to others in their new communities as well."    

Grigg, a sophomore education major from Berryville, learned about serving others from her parents and now volunteers several hours a week as a tutor in the local schools.   "It makes me feel good about myself, like I’m not wasting my time," Grigg said. "Hopefully, I will start a pattern that will make any community I live in a part of my life and not just a place to live. It’s my way of giving back."    

Pittenger, coordinator for student development, is one of several people on campus who volunteer for the Meals-on-Wheels program which delivers hot meals to elderly shut-ins.  "When I moved here, I began to look for ways to get involved with the community, and Meals-on-Wheels seemed like a very worthwhile program," Pittenger said. "I began as a meal deliverer, and now I’m one of the coordinators. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of students who want to help out with this program. They have the time to commit to helping people, and they understand the importance of it."    

Perhaps one of the most vital volunteer efforts taken on by U of O students is that of translators for the large Hispanic community in the Clarksville area. Bilingual international students help bridge the communication gap in such venues as hospitals and school parent-teacher conferences. Students have also helped lead in efforts in teaching basic English to Hispanic residents.    

"If I have the skills to help, then I feel like I should do all I can to help," said Carlos Gonzalez, a sophomore business major from Panama. "I can’t imagine being in a country and not being able to communicate. That’s why I not only want to help in translation, but in teaching them English as well."    

Jeffries, a professor of biology, has used his knowledge of plants and trees - not to mention his hands and back - to contribute an estimated 400 hours of work since 1992 in restoring Spadra Creek Nature Trail in Clarksville. Jeffries has coordinated the efforts of hundreds of students and faculty in working on the 2.6-mile hiking trail, which was first built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.    

"The trail had been eroded over the years and I thought it was important to restore it, and, in some cases, rebuild it so that it can be used as intended," Jeffries said. "Many species of trees, some quite rare, grow along the trail, and wildlife is quite common. I wanted people to be able to enjoy it."    

First Lady and Campus Community Relations Director Shereé Niece volunteers her time on numerous boards and organizations. She said she loves the emphasis that local volunteer groups place on the children of the community.   "I love that most of the organizations are based on helping kids," she said. "We try to give each child every opportunity possible, and I love that about Clarksville."    

Athletics Director Jack Jones also realizes the importance of playing a role in the development of youth. He and his wife, psychology professor Karen Jones, serve as volunteer coaches in the Tri-County Soccer Association.  "It’s a great organization because it teaches the children discipline and hard work," Jack Jones said. "If I can help a child develop athletic skills, while also promoting academics and sportsmanship, I feel like I can have a positive influence on their lives."    

Hurley, a senior political science major from Clinton who is the 2001-02 Student Government Association president, volunteers up to six hours a week at the police station, where he helps with administrative duties. The volunteer work stems from his interest in pursuing a career in criminal justice.    

"It was a great way to help out the police department while getting some valuable experience," he said.    Hurley said he sees numerous examples of students’ volunteer efforts that go largely unnoticed.    "For the most part, students aren’t in it for the recognition," Hurley said. "I think it goes back to the type of students who come here. Ozarks seems to attract students who want to help others. You see students helping others all the time on this campus, whether it’s studying, getting ready for an event, or whatever. I think that carries over to helping out in the community as well."    

President Niece said one of his primary goals when he became president in 1997 was to help the university reconnect with the Clarksville community.  "The campus and the community are important to one another, and for each of us to be successful we depend upon one another," he said. "Community service is one method of connecting with Clarksville and Johnson County, and it is a way for faculty, staff and students to give back to the community and to share our many talents and blessings."