Community Outreach Week unites global alumni

By Colleen Schonfield | 3/11/15 10:01pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Abigayle Sloan Community Outreach Week (C.O.W.)


Grand Valley State University’s community expands far beyond its campus borders. With GVSU chapters and clubs spread throughout different parts of the globe, distance quickly becomes a factor that will never break the tie of being a "Laker for a Lifetime."

One week each year, alumni and students unite under the common interest of providing outreach to their communities, whether in Grand Rapids or elsewhere. This global movement is Community Outreach Week, a volunteering experience that brings Lakers together to serve in the name of GVSU.

“It’s important for this to be a tradition that they (students) carry from student to graduate,” said Abigayle Sloan, assistant director of alumni relations. “We see it as a part of being a Laker for a lifetime.”

The joint effort between the GVSU Alumni Association and the Community Service Learning Center has helped to shape the foundation of COW, which in turn has provided more opportunities to reach out to the community.

“It’s a unique experience because of this collaboration,” said Laura Murnen, graduate assistant for Service Initiatives in the Office of Student Life. “It allows volunteers to reach out to various groups of people.”

COW is typically set for the last week in March, bringing in hundreds of GVSU volunteers. Last year, 162 projects were completed with the help of 670 volunteers, accumulating to 2,585 hours. This year, the goal is to surpass last year’s number of volunteers with a goal of 730.

Although current students, faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to volunteer, emphasis is placed on reaching out to alumni, especially those living out of state.

“This (volunteerism) is one of the most important ways for alumni to stay connected to the university,” Sloan said. “When you do it in the name of GVSU, it makes you feel close to home.”

GVSU alumni chapters and clubs range in location from Europe to South America, as well as in Grand Rapids. Sloan differentiated chapters as university affiliations, such as sports, and clubs as groups of alumni living in a specific geographic area.

Volunteer projects associated with COW can be found in Chicago, San Francisco, Argentina, Detroit and more. In Grand Rapids, volunteers will be providing service at nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Kids' Food Basket.

“Service crosses a lot of boundaries,” Sloan said. “There are so many different ways to give back to the community.”

Murnen said volunteerism can inherently be found within GVSU’s values and mission – that promoting positive social change and being an active citizen in the community is to be expected of Lakers and can be exemplified through volunteering in service projects.

“GVSU is connected to its community,” she said. “There’s never been an issue with getting GVSU students involved with volunteering.”

This year’s Community Outreach Week will take place March 21-28. A list of community service projects can be found at www.gvsu.edu/cow/. Those who sign up before Friday will receive a free blue COW bandana.

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