Oasis volunteers make day of difference at 10 community sites

Janette Neuwahl

Belting out the lyrics of Bryan McKnight’s “Back at One,” Speech junior Adam Wu flashed one, then two, then three fingers, demonstrating the song’s hand movements for beaming Greenwood Care residents during Saturday afternoon’s karaoke hour.

Wu volunteered at the seven-floor home for mentally ill patients as part of Oasis’ first Community Action Day. A total of 200 students volunteered at 10 sites to help broaden the group’s impact on the community.

Although Wu said he enjoyed volunteering once at Greenwood, 1406 Chicago Ave., his schedule as a resident assistant and work-study student does not allow him to volunteer each week. Community Action Day gave him a chance to reconnect with the residents.

“Spending time with the people at Greenwood was a touching experience but we just did small things,” Wu said. “We didn’t change the world in three hours, but for the people we did visit at least we managed to brighten up their afternoon if nothing else.”

Greenwood Care residents said they look forward to seeing Oasis volunteers each Friday when they visit for two hours. On Saturday, although fewer residents were in the building than on weekdays, volunteers played cards and board games with them, sang karaoke in the cafeteria and made crafts such as lanyards.

“They don’t have as many young people (at Greenwood Care), and today they have all these people from Northwestern,” said Dawn Newman, 28, a two-year resident of the home. “Them being here has made it easier to cope with being here.”

At the beginning of the day, volunteers crowded into Foster-Walker Complex to eat bagels and hear two speakers. Education Prof. Dan Lewis spoke about the opportunity to join NU’s two-year Service Learning Certificate Program where students can earn course credit for doing community service. The other speaker was Paul Arnston, director of Northwestern’s Undergraduate Leadership Program.

Arnston told students that through volunteering, participants were “not only helping others, but helping yourself.”

The volunteers grabbed brown bag lunches and broke into their groups where site leaders discussed the activities planned for the day.

Despite all the benefits from volunteering, students had to deal with drawbacks, from residents swearing in Polish to habitual smoking.

Oasis President Amina Merchant said one of the day’s main goals was for students to gain a better understanding about the organizations. At each site, volunteers attended an orientation about each organization’s aims, which other service days do not often provide.

“We hope volunteers will take back with them experience that they can apply to their lives and use that experience to get more involved in volunteering,” said Merchant, an Education senior, who worked at Jonquil Welfare Hotel, which houses low-income families near Howard Street.

“We definitely plan to make this an annual event because we want people to learn from their volunteering experience since that’s what OASIS is all about,” Merchant said.