As organizations are facing tremendous challenges and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is looking for new ways to meet the needs of the community. We CU Community Engaged Scholars—a 10-week summer scholars program matching University of Illinois students with community-based projects—was launched on June 1.
The program uses an online platform, GivePulse, to provide volunteer opportunities and track service hours. About 235 students have registered for 422 service and training opportunities, logging more than 600 hours of service and training as of June 30.
Katie Shumway, Director of the School of Social Work’s Community Learning Lab and Co-Director of We CU, says “Our local community organizations are doing incredible work and we’d like to support them however we can. A goal of our program is to start with the needs of the community and we also want to give students a sense of community and an opportunity for connection during this time of social isolation. By connecting a group of students to a community project, they have a chance to work with others, connect, and give back to the community which we hope will give them a sense of belonging and purpose during this global pandemic.”
Over 45 unique projects with Champaign County organizations have been matched, including Circle of Friends, Champaign County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Board, Champaign Center Partnership, Carle’s Healthy Beginnings program, Developmental Services Center, United Way, and others. Projects are completed remotely, and students who complete at least 40 hours of service will be recognized with a We CU honor ceremony and certificate of completion. The program also offers training and support for the student scholars, as well as mini grants to offset any project expenses.
The We CU co-directors are working to build on the summer pilot program and create more opportunities for students to make an impact in the community.
Emily Stone, Research Development Manager for the College of Education and Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute and Co-Director of We CU, says “We hear from our students how deeply impacted they are by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, and our country’s broader systemic racism. We are creating more opportunities for students to discuss these events and developing more service opportunities for students to support causes connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.”