Students are often considered to be one of the most valuable assets to a community, and SUNY New Paltz offers its students many opportunities to become active citizens. According to the school’s website, there are over 100 clubs and organizations recognized by the Student Association.
However, students are often left wondering where their unique skills and interests are needed beyond campus, in the real world. There is a solution: UlsterCorps, a volunteer initiative in Ulster County that emerged in 2008 and is currently flourishing.
“I think that students begin their activity on campus, but they need to realize that there’s a whole other world that needs help,” said Jamie Staab, a third-year sociology major. “The only problem is that they need an outlet to the greater community.”
Staab expanded her activism when she joined the SUNY New Paltz chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) in her second year. Similar clubs that reach beyond campus include Circle K, Activist Coalition, and Students for Fresh Water in Developing Nations. Still, students need more options.
“I’m not involved with any clubs on campus, or any activities off-campus,” said Sara Kirshner, a first-year business major. “I haven’t heard of many that have to do with my major or what I’m interested in.”
This is where UlsterCorps, an off-campus database for volunteerism, comes in handy.
“Volunteerism is central to sustaining healthy, resilient communities,” said Rick Flynn, president of UlsterCorps, at the 2011 Service Summit conference. To help make volunteerism a common value, UlsterCorps pairs community members with volunteer positions that directly connect to their unique sets of skills and interests.
Michael Cahill, a fourth-year public relations major, finds this beneficial to students.
“We usually want to become involved with things that are actually meaningful to us, especially if it’s a volunteer position,” said Cahill. “We want to use what we’re learning at school in a practical setting.”
Agencies under the UlsterCorps umbrella include organizations that spread awareness, health services, educational facilities, soup kitchens, shelters, libraries and environmental organizations. The skillset that UlsterCorps reaches to is wide and includes art, computer, construction, cooking, farming, fundraising, physical work, public relations, and tutoring.
Erica Wagner, service-learning coordinator at the Career Resource Center on campus, supports student involvement through UlsterCorps. “It offers great resume-building activities, and it makes volunteering easier,” she said. “One of its most valuable aspects is that the people who are behind it are always available for one-on-one contact. It’s a network of support for volunteers.”