Wildcats, Grizzlies, Bulldogs, Tigers and Gorillas don't usually play nicely with each other.
But for the good of their state, dozens of Kansas college students put those rivalries aside to work together on community service projects. Kansas Corps gives students many opportunities to do just that.
After the Greensburg tornado, a team of Kansas Corps students gathered to help the town get rid of debris, lay sod and plant trees. In April, 12 students served as a clean-up crew for Kansas Mission of Mercy, a program that provides free dental care to Kansans who can't afford it. Others worked with seniors at nursing homes, gave grade schoolers a history lesson and helped restore the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.
In 2009, the Kansas Health Foundation gave Kansas Corps a $25,000 grant for travel and supplies necessary for these projects across the state. Kansas Corps seeks to network college student volunteers to provide community service on a large scale to address local and statewide needs. The program also promotes civic engagement to the participating students in an effort to foster their sense of civic responsibility throughout their lives.
"I have learned that opening your heart, mind and soul to people or communities in need is the highest reward anyone can receive," says Travette Tannahill, a student at Butler County Community College. "There is nothing better than helping someone and seeing them smile."
Last year, Tannahill organized a Kansas Corps event where she and other volunteers helped nursing home residents play Bingo. The man Tannahill helped was blind and deaf, and to communicate with him, she had to spell out the letters and numbers in his hand.
"It was a special memory that will stay with me forever," she says.
What drove Kansas Corps initially was the lack of collaboration among universities in Kansas, says Curt Brungardt, director of the Center for Civic Leadership at Fort Hays State University. "These universities all compete for resources, students and faculty. There really hasn't been this culture of collaboration among the institutions of higher learning."
But Kansas Corps is helping to bridge that gap. "This is how we act as residents of the state of Kansas, that we show respect to our fellow man," Brungardt says. "How do you incorporate volunteerism into your life? How do you make it a routine?"
That's one thing Brittney Squire, a student at Pittsburg State University, is working to master, because she aspires to join the Peace Corps. She thought being a part of Kansas Corps would help prepare her for the future, and she learned several valuable lessons along the way.
"One of the most important things I learned was how to better develop my time management skills," Squire says. "You make time for things that are important. What is important in this situation is being able to use my resources to help those who are at a disadvantage. I also learned you cannot be successful without the help of others. Another great aspect of this program is being able to network with students from other colleges across the state who share similar values."
The Greensburg project has a special place in Squire's heart. "It was the most labor intensive of all our projects, but it allowed us to see the difference we were making."
Recently, Kansas Corps volunteers came to Wichita to help Angel Food Ministries spread the word in needy neighborhoods about an opportunity to receive high quality food at a low cost. Students split up and traveled from house to house hanging information about the program on doorknobs. Two weeks later, some Kansas Corps members returned to help Angel Food Ministries pack boxes with a variety of food.
"In this economic climate, there are a lot of people that could use this food option to save money on groceries," says Leah Noakes, Kansas Corps State Coordinator. "One of our goals is to serve those who rarely get help from student volunteers."
Brungardt aims for Kansas Corps to create an environment in which schools work with each other to serve the state's citizens.
"Wow, what that can mean for Kansas," he says.