Push for civic engagement

By Julia Quanrud

As the nation struggles through a recession, it’s difficult not to feel hopeless in the face of a struggling economy. Here in the Twin Cities, the nation’s economic troubles have created significant challenges for Minneapolis and St. Paul’s vibrant nonprofit scene. According to The Nonprofit Quarterly, “Depending on the length of the economic downturn, many nonprofits will starve themselves into a weakened organizational state through hiring freezes, pay freezes, layoffs, and deferred organizational maintenance.. How ironic that organizations created in part to help the needy may well contribute hundreds of thousands to the ranks of the nation’s unemployed,” (Paul Light, Volume 15, Issue 4).Now is not a time to lose hope. Nonprofits will look increasingly to volunteers to help support their organizations through lean times. Macalester students can make a significant contribution towards ensuring the continued vitality of valuable nonprofits in the Twin Cities.

The most obvious contribution Macalester students can make to organizations serving the community is volunteering their time at a local nonprofit. Neighborhood organizations like Family Tree Clinic, Laura Jeffrey Academy, and Quatrefoil Library provide students with opportunities close enough to campus to walk to.

For those looking to venture beyond the limits of the Mac-Groveland and Merriam Park neighborhoods, however, the Civic Engagement Center (CEC) coordinates multiple group volunteer experiences for interested students. Every week, the CEC provides transportation to students teaching English on the West Side, mentoring young women in the suburbs, tutoring schoolchildren in Uptown, and more. The CEC also assists students interested in developing volunteer groups, providing them with both valuable training and the practical resources necessary to create a regular volunteer group.

Many students find it difficult to balance volunteering with school, extracurricular activites, and jobs. The CEC, however, can help students find one-time volunteer opportunities, and they can assist campus organizations interested in volunteering in the community. For work study students, the CEC also offers paid positions off campus with local nonprofits, as well as positions within the CEC coordinating issue areas such as immigrants and refugees, women and gender, and health and wellness. The CEC is currently accepting applications for Issue-Based Coordinators and for off-campus positions with community organizations like Eureka Recycling or Admission Possible.

Students can also help struggling nonprofits by using Macalester programs such as the Action Fund. Macalester students and organizations wishing to develop a community service project can apply to the Action Fund for grant money to jumpstart their project. The Action Fund is offered every semester, and the deadline this spring is February 25th. The CEC can also connect students to other sources of funding, fulfilling a critical need in today’s economy.

Macalester students have a long tradition of community involvement, and now more than ever we need to nourish and sustain our commitment to our communities. The nonprofit sector could not survive without the contributions of compassionate people who are eager for change. Consider supporting nonprofits in this critical time, helping to ensure the continued vitality of our community.

To learn more about community service or any of the programs mentioned in this editorial, contact the Civic Engagement Center at [email protected] or macalester.edu/cec. Julia Quanrud ’09 can be reached at [email protected].