Beyond the Hill

Fresh S.T.A.R.T.: 600 Penn State University freshman ‘get rooted’ by volunteering

Courtesy of Ben Kline

Fresh S.T.A.R.T. has four categories of service: environmental, philanthropy, social justice and human development.

Erin Ferris spent her first Saturday as a Pennsylvania State University student weeding plants on a farm. Now, four years later, she’s helping other students do the same.

Ferris, a senior dual majoring in labor and employee relations and psychology, is the executive director of Fresh S.T.A.R.T., a student organization that puts together one of Penn State’s largest days of service. Every year she and her team pair more than 500 first-year, change-of-campus and transfer students with a volunteer opportunity. Almost 600 people participated on Saturday.

“Our motto for Fresh S.T.A.R.T. is ‘get rooted,’” said Ben Kline, co-director of community partnerships. “We want students to find their space on campus and make service a part of their time on campus.”

Kline said the organization keeps three goals in mind for each day of service: introduce students to service opportunities, build friendships and create engagement between the campus and surrounding city.

This year the day ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first two hours were spent on check-ins, lunch and bonding activities so participants could get to know one another. About noon, everyone split into groups and headed to their designated volunteer location, Kline said.

The approximately 20 organizations that Fresh S.T.A.R.T. paired with were split into four categories: environmental focus, philanthropy and special interest groups, community building and social justice preservation and issues in health and human development.

“There’s a little bit of something for everyone,” Ferris said.

Students took part this year in work with a local animal shelter, a children’s museum and Rise Against Hunger, an organization working to provide food security, Kline said.

In three and a half hours, a group of about 30 volunteers put together 10,000 meal packages full of nonperishable foods. The packages put together on the Penn State campus will be delivered to people all around the world, Ferris said.

“I’m really proud of all the work the volunteers put in and the impact they were able to make,” Ferris said.

The effect is also felt in the coming days and weeks. Volunteers also attend a student organization fair at the end of the day, where they can choose to continue their service throughout the year. It’s also a chance to mingle with other students in similar situations.

Kline said the fair is where he first got involved with Circle K International, a service organization on the Penn State campus of which he is now president, and where he made some of his closest friends.

Of her time in Fresh S.T.A.R.T. Ferris recalls how grateful the two farm operators were to have the students there.

“They explained to us how our effort there in just four hours really helped them tremendously in the season and year to come,” Ferris said. “In terms of the labor, it wasn’t something they would be able to do because they just don’t have the staff on hand.”

After her freshman year, Ferris took on a leadership role as co-director of community partnership and now executive director. Though the 2017 day of service is over, she’s already got her mind on next year. It may only be one day, but it takes almost a full year to put together, Ferris said.

Once again the Fresh S.T.A.R.T. team has to reach out to organizations all over the city, elect new people into leadership positions and reach out to deans, businesses and alumni for donations. While the organization receives staff support and money from the university it still relies on outside funding.

But it’s worth it.

“We’re trying to get students engaged in the community and develop the next generation of service leaders,” Ferris said.

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