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Dec. 2, 2004 • Volume 13 Number7

Volunteer and Service Learning Center Director Dan Ponsetto with student assistants who worked at the center during its first year.

A First Year Full of Progress

Volunteer Service and Learning Center is off to a promising start

When he first took on the role as the inaugural director of the Boston College Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC) last fall, former campus minister Dan Ponsetto envisioned spending plenty of hours in personal contact with volunteers, making arrangements for immersion trips and talking with social service agencies and other groups in need of help.

All of that happened, said Ponsetto in a recent interview, but there was one thing for which he was unprepared: databases.

"I knew nothing about them," recalled Ponsetto with a grin. "But we learned pretty quickly."

Along with all the other tasks required to get the center up and running, Ponsetto and Administrative Assistant Elizabeth Mackenzie say one of their biggest achievements over the past year was developing an on-line database that offers registered users information about almost any available service opportunity in the Greater Boston area.

"It's really a fantastic tool that can be accessed from any computer that's got Internet access," said Ponsetto. "A database offers a way to access information - and we've got plenty of that."

Just beginning its second year, the Volunteer and Service Learning Center assists Boston College students, staff and faculty in finding volunteer and service opportunities in the Greater Boston area, creating a network between existing student service and immersion organizations, and helping departments in their efforts to offer high quality experiences for those who want to serve others.

Ponsetto says the VLSC database now has close to 60 agencies in the database offering opportunities to volunteer in 30 different areas ranging from youth services to alcohol abuse to domestic violence and environmental issues. As of last month, 75 different volunteer opportunities were posted on the site.

Since the database went on-line at the start of the academic year in September, 187 references have been sent from the database to the agencies in need of help, said Mackenzie.

Visitors to the VLSC Web site, at www.bc.edu/vslc, go through a simple registration process before accessing the database. Users can search for opportunities according to type of volunteerism, time of day they are available to work, skills they would like to offer and which population - such as children or senior citizens - they wish to help.

The site also automatically sends the user information on volunteer opportunities based on past search criteria. "This way, if people don't find something that fits their schedule, they can be automatically updated when a new opportunity arises," said Ponsetto.

Another major accomplishment of the last year, said Ponsetto, is the establishment of the Eagle Volunteer Corps, comprised of members of the BC community who agree to take part in at least two volunteer opportunities per semester.

Mackenzie said incoming freshmen were the first ones given the opportunity to sign up for EVC during freshman orientation last summer and so far 300 have registered for service, along with an additional 100 other students, faculty and staff members who heard about the group.

"It's really nice to have a crew of people who are almost 'on-call' when a major opportunity presents itself," said Ponsetto, citing events such as the Special Olympics that are in need of plenty of volunteers at a given time each year.

Ponsetto said he has been impressed with the number of Boston College students who have approached him with new ideas and seek to develop service opportunities to address a number of needs.

"Regardless of the issue, there is a lot of passion out there," he said.

One of the challenges, he said, has been to take that passion and find out if there's already an opportunity to serve.

"What I don't want to do is squash anyone's idea," he said. "But I'm interested in saying, 'You already fit in somewhere, go join them."

Students who come with new ideas for developing service programs really have to do their homework before approaching the VLSC, says Ponsetto. "We're here to join people together, not to develop programs. But that does not mean I won't be willing to lend a hand and make some phone calls if someone has a really good idea.

"Encouraging service to others is a major priority at Boston College. The VSLC is playing a major role in advancing that commitment," said Ponsetto. "We're here to help."

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