IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Service and responsibility at Volunteer Clearing House
To Anna Domenico, director of the CU-Boulder Volunteer Clearing House (VCH), privilege means responsibility, the obligation to give something back to the community. "Be a part of making the change," she urges students who consider volunteer work. Those who come to VCH are paired with programs that mirror their interests.
VCH was founded in 1965 by Len Barron and other CU students who identified the need to match interested students to volunteer groups in the community and was one of the first student-run community organizations in the country. In 2004, VCH added a staff director and currently has six student staff members. The organization maintains a database of over 100 local nonprofit agencies searchable by agency type, name and days to volunteer.
How does Volunteer Clearing House help students with their education? "We recommend coursework, and we work closely with the students to make sure they understand the challenges of their volunteer experience," said Domenico. "They need to think carefully and research the group they intend to serve."
Volunteer Clearing House works not only with nonprofit agencies but also with students fulfilling mandatory community service obligations. Domenico said that the challenge for VCH is in finding volunteer opportunities suited to the case. "We try to make the service a positive experience for students in order to keep them engaged in the work," she said.
VCH also hosts Alternative Breaks, a student-run organization that provides volunteers with opportunities to serve communities during spring break week. Students may travel to different parts of the country to encounter diverse cultures in need. For example, a group from Alternative Breaks recently assisted the Hurricane Katrina cleanup effort.
Domenico is a long-time resident of the Boulder area, a graduate of Fairview High and earned her degree from CU-Boulder's Department of Sociology in 1996. "I was hooked on this career—the possibilities of volunteerism—after work with the Peace Corps in South Africa," she said. Domenico returned to Colorado to continue her agency experience with the Institute of International Education and Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She completed a master's degree in interdisciplinary social sciences at the University of Chicago in 2003, where her work focused on Sudanese refugees. "Through Volunteer Clearing House I hope that I can connect students to the kinds of real-life experiences that have changed my life for the better," she said.
One of Domenico's goals is to begin tracking the volunteers' work more closely. Additional follow up with students is key for VCH since the program enhances both education and the volunteer experience, she said. "We very much value reciprocity. VCH is not top-down—the volunteer should gain something."
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