VU students learn the value of civic engagement

Mark A. Heckler
President, Valparaiso University
December 27, 2009

Valparaiso University, throughout its history, has prepared students to lead and serve in their communities. The Quality of Life Council’s most recent report identified “a community of engaged and caring citizens” as one of Northwest Indiana’s critical needs. Valpo, understanding that civic engagement is essential for the future success of our community, actively fosters this commitment to service as a key part of its educational mission.

Valpo students devoted more than 45,500 hours to community service and raised more than $127,000 for philanthropic causes over the past year, helping address community needs in numerous ways. Here are a few examples.

In April, sophomore Luke Easterday and other members of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity rose early on a Saturday morning to participate in Rebuilding Together-Valparaiso’s annual work day. Dozens of students annually work during the event, helping low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners.

Easterday and his fraternity brothers helped Geneva Spencer, a woman in her 80s who has lived in her Valparaiso home for more than six decades. “Working with Rebuilding Together was a way for us as students to give something back to the local community,” he said.

After building a handrail for Spencer’s front porch, painting her rear porch, raking her yard and pulling weeds, Easterday and his fraternity then took part in an overnight Relay for Life cancer benefit, completing 24 consecutive hours of service.

Valpo’s College Mentors for Kids chapter, now in its third year, helps at-risk youth and encourages them to pursue a college education. Forty elementary school children meet with their college mentors weekly and participate in activities such as learning how nurses take care of people at Valpo’s College of Nursing.

Chelsey Dunleavy, who helped start the chapter and serves as president, says, “We want to show children how they can achieve their dreams by pursuing their education.”

Surveys demonstrate the influence of College Mentors, with parents reporting children are more interested in attending college and teachers reporting that students in the program display improved self-esteem and reading skills.

These are only two examples of how each one of us can make a positive difference. Working together, business, churches, government, charities, educational institutions and individuals can help lead the renewal and rebirth of Northwest Indiana as a community of engaged and caring citizens and a place where people want to live and raise their families. I invite you to show gratitude for all that we have been blessed to receive. What can you do to enrich our shared quality of life by serving those in need during the new year and beyond?