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Student organization creates network of existing service opportunities


Student United Way Executive Board members, left to right, Lauren Mardis, Sheridan Smith and Sydney Evans stand around a poster describing Student United Way. The Executive Board of the new club mirrors a nonprofit, giving students a chance to experience nonprofit leadership.  Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

While there are hundreds of service organizations registered on IU's beINvolved page, there is a lack of cohesion among them, according to Christina Alway, president of Student United Way. 

The new organization is creating a network between existing organizations to help students navigate the abundance of volunteer opportunities at their disposal. 

“Especially being a Big Ten school, there's so many organizations and so many clubs that you would never know existed unless you have some way to find them,” senior Lauren Mardis, director of internal affairs, said. 

SUW is a branch of the Monroe County chapter of global nonprofit, United Way. The international organization partners with businesses, nonprofits and governments around the world to engage in community service revolving around three pillars: education, health and income, according to its website. 

“We see Student United Way as a chance to introduce people to United Way as a concept and a state of giving,” said Trent Deckard, resource development director for UW of Monroe County. 

The student group is forming partnerships with other organizations on campus to connect students to a variety of service opportunities. 

In addition to promoting service events led by its partners, SUW will create volunteer times in the community specific to its core members. 

Alway, who also interns at United Way of Monroe County, created the organization in fall 2017.   

While most student groups have business structures with presidents, vice presidents and membership dues, Alway set up SUW as a regular nonprofit. 

Mardis said the organization's flexible requirements help members stay focused on service, rather than rules and regulations.

“By setting it up like a nonprofit, we also have the ideals of a nonprofit,” Mardis said. "We won't lose sight of what we're actually created for."

Positions on the club’s board of directors mirror jobs at the local organization.

“If we ever have questions, we can connect with someone who has the job in the real world,” freshman Sheridan Smith, director of service opportunities, said.

Alway said this gives students interested in nonprofit management a chance to experience what the job actually entails. Alway said a class she took last fall about starting a nonprofit helped her define the club’s mission, values and vision.  

One representative from each of SUW's partner organizations will serve on SUW’s board. 

These liaisons will then present upcoming volunteer opportunities at SUW meetings, providing them a larger audience and exposing students to more options. 

“It's like a buffet of opportunities," Mardis said. 

Despite sharing events, Mardis said she doesn’t believe the organization will pull members away from participating in other groups. 

“Our favorite thing to do is take our volunteer list and give it to other organizations,” Smith said. 

Many student organizations have strict meeting requirements that often conflict with other organizations' meeting times, Mardis said. SUW members can go to one, bi-monthly meeting and learn about opportunities from several organizations at once. 

Alway said the organization will also send newsletters alerting members to service opportunities happening on campus and in the community.

Melissa Pham, president of Operation Smile at IU, said she sees SUW as a good opportunity to increase participation in her organization, which raises money for children with cleft lips or cleft palates. 

“It’s really hard to get people to join and distinguish yourself,” Pham said. 

SUW has formed eight partnerships to date: Medlife at IU, Middle Way House Chapter at IU, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, Operation Smile at IU, Pi Lambda Phi, Royal Encounters, Students Against Mass Incarceration at IU and SPEA Serves.

“Now we’re continuing momentum,” Alway said. 

SUW previously existed at IU years ago, but Alway has not been in contact with the previous leaders. She has been working closely with staff at UW of Monroe County to develop the organization and learn how to connect the partner agencies. 

“We are extremely supportive of the Student United Way chapter getting off to a good start,” Deckard said. 

A staff member attends every SUW meeting, mentoring the students leading the organization.  

“I don't want to create a service organization that doesn't need to be created,” Alway said. “If there's already all these things happening, why create another one? We’re hoping to fill the gaps.”

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