A group of dedicated young people was sworn in Sept. 12 as members of the Wood County Corps, pledging to “get things done” in the community.
BGSU Service Corps members (left to right) Nicole Messmore, Rachel Sample and Naomi Valdez. (Not pictured: Nick Kulik)
The swearing-in was part of a larger event in the life of the corps, which is being transitioned from BGSU’s oversight to the United Way of Greater Toledo. On hand were BGSU President Sidney Ribeau; Bill Kitson, president and CEO of the United Way; Dr. Jane Rosser, founding program director of the Wood County Corps, and Program Manager Ed Newman, along with other campus supporters, community partners and families of the inductees.
Rosser said the transition marks a new phase “in an ongoing partnership to build student engagement in the county and to extend our collaboration.” BGSU remains a partner in the corps and Rosser is still a consultant. Four BGSU student members of the Wood County Corps comprise the new BGSU Service Corps, and will work on a number of projects strengthening service-learning and engagement with the community.
Of the 30 positions available with Wood County Corps, which is a part of AmeriCorps, 22 are currently filled with BGSU students or recent graduates, who work in such areas as the new Teen Center in Bowling Green, with the Wood County Committee on Aging, the Children’s Resource Center, the park district, literacy programs, providing access to higher education, and with agencies serving those with special needs. Recruitment is under way for the remaining positions.
“These are people who have committed a year of their lives to serving their community,” Rosser said.
More important, she added, is that they are part of a national movement that has seen nearly 500,000 people serving their country since AmeriCorps was founded in 1994.
The corps members say they also gain from their experience serving others. Linda Rowlett, a senior from Toledo majoring in social work and with a minor in gerontology, began with the corps Aug. 26. Her work at the Children’s Resource Center with youths ages 5-17 who have mental health problems has already proven extremely rewarding, she said, and a “good opportunity to be with kids from every socioeconomic background, from diverse racial and ethnic groups and a range of ages. I love working with them and I’m learning so much.”
Some of the new members have long been involved in community service. Nicole Messmore of Metamora, who graduated from BGSU in August with a degree in political science, has worked with Rosser and others at BGSU for several years. Now, in her role as volunteer and activity coordinator for the Teen Center, “I’m just doing what I’ve always been doing, but without the pressure of grades and homework,” she said happily. “I’m doing what I like to do.”
For others, such as Rachel Sample, a sophomore from Canton, Mich., majoring in creative writing and international studies, a BGSU experience led to the desire to become a corps member. Sample, who went on a “cultural immersion” class trip to Arizona over spring break led by Gordon Ricketts, art, and Bill Thompson, United Christian Fellowship, will now work with those two planning more immersion trips for students. “That trip changed my life, and now I want to help provide those experiences for others,” she said.
“The partnership between the University, the Wood County Corps, the United Way and AmeriCorps is dedicated to making a difference in the quality of life for the community,” Ribeau said. “And the quality of life is directly related to the commitment of people who are willing to work hard. It doesn’t just happen.
“The University assures that its intellectual capital, physical plant and resources are directed for the benefit of the community,” he added, “but it is also committed to preparing the next generation of community leaders, and that is what the Wood County Corps is doing.”
Kitson offered some statistics to demonstrate the contribution the corps has made in its two years of existence: Corps members have logged 54,000 hours of service at 18 agencies, with an estimated dollar value of over $1 million, he said. “The metrics show we’re making a difference,” he added.
Citing the long affiliation between BGSU and United Way, Kitson praised the founders of the Wood County Corps. “It takes a lot of courage to begin a program,” he said.