NU Gives Back kicks off day of service with a few changes


Lan Nguyen/The Daily Northwestern

Sophomore Christian Jacobson helps while freshman Daniel Sosnovsky collects leaves Saturday at the Evanston Ecology Center. About 400 students volunteered at various sites for the day of service.

Olivia Exstrum, Reporter

About 400 Northwestern students, faculty, staff and alumni volunteered Saturday afternoon for the fourth annual NU Gives Back, the largest student-run day of service at NU.  This year, a record of about 470 volunteers signed up for the event.

“We were very excited about the turnout,” said Communication junior Jocie Padgen, co-president of NU Gives Back. “It went absolutely wonderfully. Everything went very smoothly, and all of the feedback we received has been really positive, so we’re really excited about that.”

Participants volunteered in different locations throughout Evanston and North Chicago. This year’s sites included Curt’s Cafe, an Evanston restaurant that employs at-risk youth and The Talking Farm, an urban farm in Evanston.

“Our goal is to both give back in some small way to the Evanston community that gives so much to us, as well as spark a desire to continue to give back in our participants,” Padgen said.

Padgen said one of the goals for this year’s event was to maintain participants’ enthusiasm between registration and the actual event.  She said the NU Gives Back team also changed the way they received feedback from volunteers. Site leaders distributed an initial survey at the event and plan to send a follow-up survey as well. Padgen said site leaders also led small discussions where participants could reflect on the day’s experiences.

“I think the change we’re most excited about is to connect it back to why,” she said. “Where can we take this? What can we do to use what we have gained from this experience?”

To kick off the morning, volunteers listened to speaker Sara Schastok, the president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation. Schastok talked about the importance of the relationship between NU and Evanston and shared some of her experiences to discuss the value of giving back.  

Participants then headed to their assigned sites for an afternoon of volunteering. Weinberg freshman Dorianne Ma said she learned about NU Gives Back through a friend. Ma volunteered at Asian Youth Services, a Chicago organization that tutors and mentors at-risk youth after school. Ma and other team members moved boxes and shelved books for the organization, which is currently changing locations.

Although she has little experience volunteering, Ma said she hopes to participate again next year.

“I think it’s important to give back to the community,” she said. “It offers you so much in return.”

Weinberg sophomore Dean Meisel echoed Ma’s sentiments. As a first-year volunteer, he said he was drawn to the program by its mission of “inspiring people to get involved beyond just three hours on a Saturday.”

“Maybe these three hours aren’t going to make a very big difference, but it could inspire people to get involved in their community and blur the lines between Northwestern and Evanston,” Meisel said. “We’re trying to really make people aware there are some really awesome organizations five minutes away from us that are working to do good.”

Padgen said NU Gives Back partners with different organizations every year. She said each year they try to evaluate which organizations are providing a valuable experience to participants and which are not, and they are always looking for new groups to work with. Because Evanston is limited in size, currently NU Gives Back has had to limit its registration to less than 500 participants.

“We’ve definitely had some difficulties finding enough organizations to work with, but we are looking to expand in the coming years to allow more of the Northwestern community to participate,” she said.

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Twitter: @olivesocean