Throughout my life I have always wanted to help people by making things better for the community; eventually, I hope to run a non-profit organization that will benefit those communities in need. Based on this interest and life goal, I decided to run for a position within University of Mary Washington’s Athletic Department for doing community service— the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Service Coordinator. Throughout the academic year, I have been organizing, planning, and implementing the community service opportunities for the department to do. Our first service opportunity was completed this fall: the canned food drive, where the Athletic Department partnered with Residence Life and Dining Services to collect nonperishable food for the Fredericksburg Food Bank. This experience not only benefitted the Fredericksburg community, but also showed me how people see their own power and how power has to be shared among different people.
In the past, each of the three different departments would have their individual food drives, which, in turn, led to minimal donations from the overall UMW community. For example, with the Athletic Department’s drive, there was a competition among the athletic teams to see who could get the most food (by weight), so many teams would buy giant containers of foods that the Food Bank could not use and had to throw out; also, the Residence Life and Dining Service food drives were very small because they were only a week long and were not promoted well to students. Seeing as these were unsuccessful in raising the food needed for the Food Bank, we combined our efforts to get as much food as possible from the various parts of the school. Next, the food drive is typically held at most ten days before Thanksgiving break, which does not give students a lot of time to make a donation. This year, we found the top most needed items for the Food Bank and for each of the seven weeks leading up to the week before Thanksgiving break, we had a different item for people to buy and donate to the drive. Although it was difficult to manage and promote the different canned goods that needed to be donated to the drive, it was beneficial that we mostly donated what the Food Bank wanted. Overall, this was a very successful canned food drive because the Food Bank was able to get their top most needed foods and the entire UMW community was able to beat our goal weight and raised over half of what was raised last year.
Since the canned food drive was being run by three departments within the University, power had to be distributed in a way that each person from the different departments had a part of running the drive. The driving forces behind the service mostly came from the Athletic Department and Dining Services, which each had multiple people involved in the process. Sitting in on meetings, I was able to see who from the departments would take the lead with the project, who thought they had the power, and who actually held the power. The distribution of power flowed as such: Food Bank – Dining Services – Athletic Department – Student Coordinators (me) – SAAC – the Student Body. The Food Bank would tell UMW Dining Services what needed to happen; then Dining Services would make most of the decisions as to how we were going to contribute and told Athletics what we could and could not do, even though there was a supposed shared power from these two departments. Athletics would then have the Coordinators initiate who would do what task from the SAAC board, who would get the rest of the student body involved. However, some of the people with more power disagreed with each other as to how we should actually do the service. For example, one of the heads in Athletics did not want to have the drive to be seven weeks because it exceeded the limited days we were supposed to have the drive in another competition just for Athletics; we discussed that even if the seven weeks exceeds some regulation in an exclusive competition, the overarching goal was to feed Fredericksburg and raise as much food to help out our community. Although there were many opinions as to what we should do for the food drive, at the end of the day, it was a community service for the entire UMW community to participate in for the Fredericksburg Food Bank.
This experience further helped my knowledge of what community power is by showing me that even if there is some event or service for the community, people who are used to being in charge will want to keep their power and do things the way that they want them done. Some of the power I had was minimal since I still am a student and had to do what the people in the departments wanted for the drive; however, I had a little more power than the rest of the student body, since I would initiate some of what the students had to do for the service. The power had to be delegated to the people running the service, but some of the people who were delegating the power kept most for themselves, since they did not want to give it up for a service to the community. Even if the overarching goal is to help the community and do a service to better the community, people who have power do not want to lose it and will have their own means to reaching the overarching goal.