It’s another day at work for the American hero. He awakens to the sound of bombs outside his door, wondering if he’ll ever return to the family that he left months ago. As he tries to comfort the trembling Iraqi children seeking refuge from the turmoil, he thinks about the little things from his past that he misses so much, things often taken for granted until they’re gone. Evening comes, and it’s time for mail call. He receives a package, a basket filled with Cheez-Its, granola bars, candy, wool socks, a t-shirt showing appreciation for protecting the freedoms of so many individuals, and a letter of support. He is encouraged, ready to continue the fight, his hunger for home satiated for a little bit longer.
This kind of encouragement is exactly what members of the Business Student Council at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School had in mind when collecting items for care packages to send to soldiers in Iraq. After shipping seventy packages overseas, the council continued their project, sending a total of nearly one hundred packages to troops stationed abroad.
“We knew we had to do something for these people who fight each day for the freedoms we enjoy,” said BSC President Michael Kurt ’09. “By distributing these gift baskets, we can show our support for the things these soldiers are sacrificing, while giving them a few small things to remind them of home,” he added.
At Mays Business School, the spirit of service doesn’t just appear in December; it is a year-round emphasis. Students learn to help others and give back to the community in and out of the classroom.
Cards, Cans, and Toys
Keith Swim, clinical assistant professor of management at Mays, is just one faculty member that encourages his students to get involved in service projects throughout the school year. With the help of his students, Swim continues to celebrate the success of his three favorite charities and their impact on the community.
The first project, Swim’s Card Program, invites students to send thoughtful notes to those facing difficult times. The recipient’s name is added to a card list by students, friends, and family members, and Swim’s students handle the rest, sending cards to hurting people in an effort to lift their spirits. The program began when one of Swim’s closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her son asked Swim’s students to send her cards and letters of encouragement. The students answered the call, sending so many cards that the postman had to deliver them in wheelbarrows. The students’ involvement had a great impact, as the woman continues her fight today, appreciative of the concern of a group of complete strangers.
“It only works because of the kids. It’s not me, it’s them,” said Swim. “Helping these people wouldn’t be possible without their willingness to get involved.”
Additionally, Swim heads up a food drive each fall for the Brazos Valley Food Bank. Beginning in October, students donate non-perishable items and deliver them to the food bank, often by the truckload.
The largest project taken on by Swim’s students, as well as a number of faculty, staff members, and student organizations, is the Christmas Toy Drive. Benefiting infants to teenagers in need throughout the Brazos Valley, Swim partners with Child Protective Services (CPS) each year to obtain Christmas wish lists from disadvantaged kids. “They’ve gotten to where they depend on us to make these children’s holiday season brighter,” said Swim. CPS delivers a list for each child containing the top three items they would like to receive as gifts each year and it’s up to the students to make their wishes come true. For big-ticket items like iPods and Playstations, contributors donate gift cards to stores such as Target and Wal-Mart to fund the purchases.
The project doesn’t stop there—Swim also recruits student volunteers to wrap and distribute the presents. In the past, the toy drive has also provided truckloads of bicycles for these children in need. The students show their dedication throughout the entire project, some even volunteering to camp out all night and brave the whirlwind of shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving to find items at the best sale prices.
Swim added that when given the opportunity to serve, most of his students jump at the chance without a second thought, understanding the importance of giving back to the community. “There’s so much negativity associated with college students, and they often get a bad rap from people in town. These kinds of projects show the community that there are a lot of good kids out there that want to make a difference in this town,” he said.
The impact of Swim’s Christmas Toy Drive is felt throughout the Brazos Valley. Linda Harris, office manager at CPS, sees the joy that comes from the Aggie students’ involvement. She retired from the job last August, but she says she decided to return in October for the sole purpose of working with Swim on the yearly toy drive. “I just couldn’t give it up. This program brings so much happiness to the children, and we look forward to it every year,” Harris said. “We have so many children that need things, and these students help fulfill those needs. The work that Swim and his students do is just amazing.”
Community involvement enters the classroom
Lessons of service are not emphasized in Swim’s classroom alone, as many Mays students begin their b-school education focusing on the best ways to impact the Bryan/College Station community. In the business 289 class, integrated worklife competencies, a mid-semester service project enables students to become involved with the community while learning to work in a team. Roemer Visser, clinical assistant professor in the Undergraduate Special Programs Office, leads a section of the undergrad class, which takes on a service focus in the second half of each semester. The course presents students with the challenge of identifying a need in a local agency and then determining the best strategy to meet that need.
“The service aspect of the course really has potential to impact the students, and some get such great intrinsic value out of it when they realize their impact on the agency that they continue to work with the organization in future semesters. It’s not just about a grade for these students,” said Visser. The 52 students in the fall 289 course raised a total of $48,000 in donations and volunteer hours, a testament to the dedication of the class to the B/CS community.
When Trey Ward ’11 and his group, Team A-MAYS-ING, began their project, they wanted to get involved with an organization that would let them interact with people. Ward and his teammates chose to work with CAMP FOR ALL, a camp for children and adults with disabilities. “We felt that by actually working with children and parents, we would see how our work was affecting other people and making a difference, as opposed to relying on only donations to see the impact of our work,” Ward said.
One experience in particular that made the project worthwhile for Ward was working with a weekend-long getaway that brings together families affected by cancer. Ward coordinated softball games for the children at the camp and had the opportunity to speak with a few of the parents. One dad thanked him for his involvement with the organization, explaining that his daughter, a cancer patient, had not stopped smiling since she had been there. “That is when I realized that we were really making a difference,” Ward said.
Ward’s classmate Kirsten Lande ’11 and her team, The Untouchables, hoped to do something unique for the assignment. Not wanting to work with a well-known agency, they chose Voices for Children, which specializes in finding adoptive families for homeless and abandoned children. Lande’s group raised almost $3,000 worth of cash and in-kind donations for the organization by painting houses in Bryan and soliciting donations for welcome home baskets for adopted children.
Lande and teammates presented the baskets at the National Adoption Day Ceremony on November 14 to help a number of families celebrate their newly adopted family members. “To know that we touched the lives of seven children gives such a great sense of satisfaction. These children, who were once lost and alone, are now blessed with a permanent home—something they will be able to look back on in a few years and really be able to appreciate,” said Lande.
Whether it’s the gift of a toy or of time, Mays students prove the impact of the college population on the Bryan/College Station area. “It’s really easy to get caught up in school and work and being a student,” said Leslie Reitmeyer ’11, whose group worked with the Brazos Valley Rehabilitation Center helping disabled children experience horses (hippotherapy). “But it’s important to be involved and realize the importance of giving back to the community, and the fact that a lot of what we do would not be possible without its support.”