On a warm and breezy Saturday afternoon, 20 students from Oklahoma State University worked together to rake and pick up leaves that have fallen from the trees surrounding the Payne County Youth Shelter.
Nearly 40 trash bags full of leaves and brush sit piled up on the street, but the students aren’t done yet. They have already been working for an hour, and they still have another hour and multiple bags to fill.
This isn’t a club. These are not students who got in trouble.
These students are residents from OSU’s residence halls who just want to serve their community through a program called Alternative Spring Break.
Fred Dillard is one of many members of the department of residential life staff at OSU, but he is one of a few who uses his position to help the Stillwater community outside the boundaries of the campus.
Dillard’s role as the coordinator of student leadership within the residential life department allows him to interact with residents who are looking to volunteer and provide them with service opportunities.
Studies show that only a small amount of college students volunteer in their community while in school. The community that serves them for four years receives almost nothing in return. That is why Dillard works to provide and encourage residents to take opportunities to give back to the Stillwater community that serves as a home away from home while they attend OSU.
Dillard is in his third year working at Oklahoma State. He completed his undergraduate degree at Arkansas Tech University and his graduate school at Central Missouri before taking the position at OSU’s residential life department. Originally from Conway, Arkansas, Dillard did not have much experience with volunteering before taking the job at OSU, which is why he aims to lead by example for his students.
“My goal is to be more active in volunteering personally,” Dillard said. “By me volunteering, hopefully my students will volunteer. I have noticed while working with students over the last couple of years that it is easier to show them versus telling them they should volunteer.”
In Oklahoma, only about 28.5 percent of college students do volunteer work, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Joyce Montgomery, the coordinator of the student volunteer center at OSU, said the university has logged over 1 million service hours completed by students, but Montgomery believes not all the hours are being recorded so that number should be much higher.
“There are over 500 student clubs on campus and only 27 are listed as service clubs, but we know many others do community service,” Montgomery said. “We are still grappling at ways to record that and let students know the enormity of what they are doing and solving problems in today’s society.”
A 2015 survey by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics claimed the community service rate of college students is declining year by year. The document reveals that 27.4 percent of students aged 16-19 were volunteering, while only about 19 percent of 20-24 year-olds participated in community service.
Dillard is trying to raise that number by impacting students in a positive way and forming relationships with them that encourage them to want to serve the community. In order to inform residents about his volunteer programs, such as Alternative Spring Break, Dillard emails every resident to invite them to events so he can inform residents, like Skyla Edwards, on the opportunities he provides to serve the community.
“I heard of this program through the email Fred sent out,” Edwards said. “This is the first time I have participated in Alternative Spring Break, but I definitely think I’d like to do it again.”
Dillard’s passion for serving the Stillwater community has impressed his residents and fellow volunteers who praise him for how he operates his programs.
“I have worked with Fred a couple of times,” Carson Elmore, a volunteer of Alternative Spring Break, said. “I trust that anything that he is running is going to be going well to help the community.”
The good news for Dillard and Elmore is that being at a university is statistically one of the best places they can be at to recruit volunteers. John Wilson, who has done research on the subject of volunteering, believes that is because of the skills students pick up at a higher level of learning.
“Level of education is the most consistent predictor of volunteering,” Wilson said. “Education boosts volunteering because it heightens awareness of problems, increases empathy and builds self-confidence.”
Alternative Spring Break is not the only service program Dillard is in charge of. In the fall semester, he led residents to volunteer at places such as Our Daily Bread, Habitat for Humanity and Wings of Hope.
While there are usually only 10-20 volunteers that participate in each volunteer opportunity, Dillard will continue to serve the Stillwater community and hopes students will realize what he and the other volunteers have realized about their community.
“I think it is important for students to volunteer while they are at Oklahoma State because a lot of students are not from Stillwater,” Dillard said. “They come to Stillwater for four or more years, use the resources in Stillwater and then they leave. While they are coming and gaining a degree and getting resources, I think this is a way to give back to the community that provides so much to them.”