August 26, 2013

Even though Work on Worcester Day is a few weeks away, students can sign up now at the online Work on Worcester volunteer page to get a jump on September’s schedules. Sponsored by the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council, the annual Work on Worcester Day draws hundreds of WPI students who want to give back to the larger community that supports their school all year.

On September 22, WPI students are invited to take on one (or two!) three-hour shifts to perform community service in the greater community. Generally up to 400 students answer the call for volunteers, says Julia Lamontagne, who is in charge of community service for the Panhellenic Council. And if you haven’t signed up before the day of the event, you can head over to the Campus Center patio any time after 8am to take part.

“We ask student volunteers to work three hours and we set up sites for them to go to,” Lamontagne says. Students then take buses to and from participating organizations, like the Worcester Housing Authority, Friendly House, Habitat for Humanity, and Friends of Institute Park. Some students choose to take on a site leader role in charge of a group at a designated site. Those interested may fill out a site leader sign-up sheet online.

Using elbow grease to clean up the community is a special request of many organizations, she says. “There’s a lot of landscaping work, or maybe clearing out a room, or cleaning or scrubbing walls.” In the two years Lamontagne has participated in Work on Worcester Day, she has raked leaves and picked vegetables.

Paul Levenson, executive director of Friends of Institute Park, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping the local green space beautiful, has only praise for the WPI students who have helped his organization. “They have been wonderful,” says Levenson. “They have wonderful enthusiasm and are hard workers. They are nice kids who want to do the right thing. And they are sometimes very inventive on how they get things done!”

Levenson says the students add much needed muscle and extra hands to help clear brush from around Institute Park’s pond, place wood chips around trees, or perform assorted tasks like repairing or painting the concert shell area. “You can get so much more done with a big group,” he says, describing the impressive sight of the mass of students arriving ready to get to work. “I am amazed at what can be done in a couple of hours. They are so helpful.”

Students can use the shift to satisfy community service hour requirements, says Lamontagne, but there are many students who just get a good feeling from helping others. Entire floors of a dorm will sign up to work together,  as will plenty of students not affiliated with the Greek community. But, Lamontagne says, this event has a special meaning for those in fraternities and sororities. “As part of the Greek community, community service is one of our pillars and something we live by and try to do a lot of.”. The commitment to community service work also helps dispel some of the unflattering media stereotypes of Greek life, she says.. It shows that affiliated members are more helpful and altruistic than how the media portrays them.

In addition to helping out their adopted community, all students, Greek or not, benefit from giving their time and energy to those in the community who need both. “It’s good to give back,” Lamontagne says, “and it makes us better leaders—it helps make us the best we can be.”

- Julia Quinn-Szcesuil