Jan. 11, 2005
A record number of students at HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College, are participating in community work study programs and volunteering with nonprofit groups in the region.

HACC receives federal work study financial aid for students which requires that 7 percent of the federal work study award be spent in community service work.

"To achieve the federal requirement of 7 percent, last year we needed to utilize $22,812 in community service," said Sheila Ciotti, director of Career Services at HACC. "During that period $38,395 or 11.7 percent of our original work study award was spent in community work study, exceeding our goal. Halfway through this academic year, we already exceeded the goal - we're currently at about 8 percent."

"In the past two years, we've more than doubled the number of nonprofit community organizations who are interested in our students working with them. These are not internships for our students, although some students are able to create internships from the experience," said Ciotti.

Some students who may have volunteered outside the work study community service program in the past are encouraged to apply for the program. Participation is based on financial need, and students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid which is an application that most financial aid providers use to determine what students will receive in funding.

"This is a win-win situation," said Ciotti. "Most participating community organizations are desperately underfunded and welcome our bright young volunteers. Students who need financial aid are paid by HACC with the federal monies at a rate of $6.75-$7.55 per hour for up to 20 hours per week. And HACC is able to fulfill the government requirement for community service work to continue to be eligible for these funds."

There may be between 10-15 students involved in the program at any one time, with the average participating two semesters or more. Besides the financial aspect, students get valuable work experience and are able to see if that type of work is something they want to pursue.

HACC Associate Dean of Student Life Lynette DiBrito coordinates campus volunteerism outside the federal work study community service program.

There are 28 recognized student organizations on the Harrisburg campus and to maintain their funding from HACC, there are various requirements including one community service project per semester.

"The philosophy behind that is that because they receive student activity fees," said DiBrito. "We want them to give back to the community. And we define that broadly - it may be for the HACC community for a nonprofit event happening here or in the community for a nonprofit organization. The base theme is teaching the importance of being a good community member - to have them realize the value that as one individual we can do things, but when we do things together the world is really a better place.

When I work with organizations to craft what community service they want to do, I try to stretch their minds. It doesn't mean much for many of our groups to do roadside clean up, for example," said DiBrito. "But when we tie their community service to an interest related to what their organization is about, those who participate see and feel the value of what they do."

HACC's Dental Hygiene Association did free dental screening for area youth involved in basketball camps. The Video Production Club volunteered during the holidays to videotape concerts at local schools. The Environmental Club hosted an electronics recycling day that brought hundred of community members onto campus to recycle electronic items.

There is no rule that all organization members have to participate, but a minimum of 10 members per semester must participate in a community service project. There are many small events, as well. Circle K, which is tied to Kiwanis, may have 10-12 members on any given day cooking at the Ronald McDonald House.

"The student body here is a very generous group of individuals. When I ask for assistance, there is always an outpouring of students willing to help. That's part of the culture here. Because we're a college where students commute, many of these service projects also provide a social reason for students to get together," said DiBrito. "For those who do get incredibly involved, their community service is part of their identity, part of their college experience, and they are making the most of it."

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