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March 30, 1998

Learning through serving: Oakes program supports student volunteers

Holly Edde, who graduated in June, taught first graders last spring as a teacher's aide at Live Oak School

By Francine Tyler

During his student career at UCSC, senior Javier Jimenez has balanced his academic course work with volunteer experiences. He's educated people about the AIDS virus for the Santa Cruz AIDS Project and tutored high school sophomores at Santa Cruz High School--all under the guidance of the Oakes Serves program.

"It's a really nice way to get away from the university, to talk to people in the community and work with them," said Jimenez. "It made me happy to see I was able to help."

Jimenez is one of 250 students who have volunteered in the local community during the last four years under Oakes Serves. Founded in winter 1994 at Oakes College, Oakes Serves is one of many campus programs through which UCSC students may volunteer. An average of 22 students sign up for the Oakes Serves class each quarter.

"We have students of all disciplines coming to Oakes for this program, and they find it is a good outlet for them, getting them off campus and working with people who have real problems and real issues," said Stan Oden, coordinator for Oakes Serves.

Through the program, students have worked at a number of agencies in the Santa Cruz community, including Dominican Hospital, the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, the Elderday Day Health Care Program, and Habitat for Humanity, Oden said. Most, however, do education-related work in local schools, after-school programs, and alternative high schools.

Students who sign up for Oakes Serves spend eight hours each week volunteering in an agency of their choosing. They also attend a weekly class where they talk about their experiences, hear about different aspects of community service, and learn how to solve problems and resolve conflicts. For the three-credit class, they also keep journals and write research papers.

Depending on where they choose to spend their volunteer hours, students might be tutoring homeless children, building houses, or even helping intravenous drug addicts avoid AIDS infections by distributing clean needles.

"The students are encouraged to volunteer in an area where they will gain skills," said Oden. "They work as paraprofessionals and many of them end up becoming very proficient in what they're doing."

It's a reciprocal relationship that also benefits the agencies where the students work.

"Oakes Serves volunteers are a great asset to our program," said Joan Rolston, program director of the Santa Cruz Boys' and Girls' Club. "They've got a lot of enthusiasm, there's lots of energy, they come in and are excited to be here."

The club, which hosts an average of three Oakes Serves students each quarter, relies on volunteers to help provide personal attention to the 2,000 children it serves each year. At the club, the volunteers may play games with the children, help them do crafts, or coach a basketball or tennis game, said Rolston.

"With the changing dynamics of family structure, adult contact is so lacking in many kids' lives," she said. "That's where we play a critical role. The more volunteers we have here, the more kids that get that one-on-one interaction."

Oden is currently seeking funding to continue Oakes Serves past this school year. The money that launched the program four years ago will run out in June, he said. He's looking for individual or corporate donors to support it in the future.

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