Make a Difference Day expands to include more volunteer sites

Jessica Allen

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Shin Young Roh is convinced she is a terrible cook.

“I’ve ruined a batch of cookies before,” the Weinberg freshman said. “People don’t think that’s possible, but it is.”

Still, Roh spent Sunday morning making French toast at Connections for the Homeless for national Make a Difference Day, which Northwestern’s Office of Student Community Service uses annually to kick off its year’s activities.

This year, about 130 students volunteered at nine locations in the Chicago area. New locations included the Brown Elephant Resale Shops , the proceeds of which support the under-insured or uninsured among Howard Brown Health Center’s LGBT clientele, and the Equestrian Connection, stables that provide horseback riding therapy for the disabled.

Natalie Furlett, coordinator for NU’s Student Community Services, said the event, which is open to the entire NU community, has expanded over the last three years through a partnership with the Northwestern Alumni Association homecoming committee.

“The partnership with the homecoming committee has given it a larger Northwestern feel,” Furlett said. “It’s now a part of a bigger celebration of the University.”

She added that their events are a great way to introduce freshmen to community service options. The office organizes another big volunteer day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as well as programs for National Volunteer Week in April.

Roh said she’d been meaning to get involved in community service at NU, but hadn’t known how until she saw Make a Difference Day advertised. As an international student from South Korea, Roh said she had difficulty engaging in the local community.

“I don’t feel a sense of belonging,” she said. “This will help me make ties to the area, especially if I continue to volunteer in one place.”

Weinberg senior Priyanka Rupani, who helped plan last year’s Make a Difference Day as a member of the homecoming committee, was the site leader at Connections for the Homeless this year. Rupani said this year she wanted to participate in service activities instead of organizing them.

She added she initially became involved with the event because she likes volunteering and participating in NU events in general.

“There are definitely community engagement efforts at Northwestern,” Rupani said. “I know you can find pockets of that – mostly through student groups – but I don’t know if students take advantage of those opportunities.”

Rupani’s volunteer group organized the food pantry, baked cookies and made French toast among other tasks, which Connection for the Homeless’ volunteer manager Kevin Rak, Weinberg ’06, said were necessary.

The NU grad has worked at Connections for the Homeless for about two and a half years.

He began volunteering there while still at NU, after participating in a follow-up volunteer day for an Alternative Spring Break trip.

Rak said Connections for the Homeless hoped to gain longer term volunteers from this year’s Make a Difference Day event.

“The biggest challenge we face is that people don’t know about us,” he said. “This event introduces people to Connections.”