Bursting Bubbles

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
January 29, 2018

Bradley students invest thousands of hours into Peoria every year. They leave positive marks on the city as they serve in soup kitchens, schools, health care clinics and social service agencies.

Service opportunities expose students to life off the Hilltop and develop students’ awareness of needs they can meet.

This is true whether students come from another state or nearby Dunlap, Ill., like biomedical science-pre-med major Jennie Houser ’20. Houser was immersed in volunteerism as a child through Peoria-area Catholic schools, but discovered new value in service through Bradley, where she became a regular assistant for Easter Seals’ water and speech therapy programs.

“I’ve seen parts of the city I never saw when I was growing up,” she said. “We need to open our eyes to the world around us. By doing that, we become more compassionate as adults who will make community service a habit.”

Bradley students volunteer 65,000 hours each year through the Lewis J. Burger Center for Student Leadership and Public Service. The center oversees several service leadership organizations and plans monthly service projects throughout the city. Greek life and student organizations additionally contribute thousands of hours and dollars to philanthropic causes.

The community commitment is vital to organizations throughout the city. Students complete large maintenance projects throughout the year, tutor children, coach youth sports, assist elderly residents and people with disabilities, address environmental concerns and contribute in other ways. During the 2016-2017 academic year, students raised $253,164 for non-profit agencies and gave more than 66,244 hours of volunteerism and service. Through numerous clothing, food and blood drives, students donated 125 school uniforms, 1,000 cans of food and 398 pints of blood.

Volunteer service builds bonds between students, organizations and the people they serve. Kelsey Chapman ’18, a music business and marketing double major from Letts, Iowa, met new friends and mentors through Loaves and Fish, a Saturday soup kitchen run by Peoria’s First United Methodist Church.

“We serve wonderful, grateful people,” she said. “It amazes me how positive and happy people are. Some don’t have a house to go home to, but they still come in smiling every week. They are always interested in getting to know us. I keep coming back because of that atmosphere.”

Community engagement also can further career interests. Omar Ellaicy ’18, a Spanish and biology-cell and molecular double major from Dunlap, assists medical staff at Peoria’s Cordoba Health Care Clinic. The clinic provides specialty care to uninsured and underinsured residents.

“I’ve learned the importance of health care for people who don’t have good access to it,” he said. “It’s been wonderful to see how passionate people are about helping others.”

As they engage the city, students realize service experiences leave marks on their hearts as well as their organizations.

“Getting up earlier on a Saturday morning is worth it if I can give people something to get them through the week,” Chapman said. “I’ll never forget the gratitude I’ve felt and smiling faces I’ve seen.”