Student staffers help ‘expand missions’ of local nonprofits

On top of helping to serve meals and run job trainings for some of Columbia Heights’ poorest residents each week, senior Max Steininger also coordinates student volunteers.

Steininger, who works at the homeless prevention group Thrive D.C., is learning the “logistical side of non-profit work” as one of 10 student leaders who work for a yearlong, GW-led organization called Engage D.C. That effort, which started last year with just four student leaders, now sends students out across the city to advise and assist groups that are often cash-strapped and under-staffed.

“Not only can we give extra hands to help prepare food and help in the computer lab, but we can also help to organize their office and seek out donors,” said Steininger, who helps the organization’s paid staff of about a dozen.

Chris Nance, who coordinates Thrive’s volunteers, said Steininger can help “take over” managing the flow of volunteers. He said the fact that Steininger and his team will be around throughout the academic year is a key benefit, adding that long-term volunteers are able to “build a rapport” with the homeless population.

“It has a pretty big impact not only on the volunteers, but on our clients,” Nance said.

Amy Cohen, director of the Center for Student Engagement and Public Service, said she launched Engage D.C. to give students more meaningful volunteer experiences, as well as to help D.C. organizations dream up bigger goals.

“The idea was, yes, we want to help them meet their basic mission – serve the soup, tutor the child – but in addition to that, we want to help expand their missions,” Cohen said. “How can we give them the capacity to move beyond what they’re currently doing?”

She pointed to students who help create databases to measure the usefulness of certain resources and other students who help build a social media presence for their organization.

One example, Cohen said, are the GW volunteers working at a downtown homeless shelter that helped the organization double the number of meals they can provide to the homeless.

Tiffani Ross, a leader of an after-school arts program called Life Pieces to Masterpieces, said GW students have helped its small staff expand its services and plan fundraisers. She said the organization, which works mostly with black males living in Ward 7, has benefitted from the volunteers’ long-term commitment.

“The beautiful thing is when we have people coming from GW and they sign on for a semester, for a year – they end up staying longer,” she said. “They really end up becoming committed members of the family.”

Sophomore Ariella Neckritz, the student leader for Life Pieces to Masterpieces, said she has developed a strong sense of belonging within the organization.

“It feels really nice to make a concerted effort as a community,” Neckritz said. “I don’t know that I had that before, where we’re coming from a similar institution and place and feeling the sense of wanting to further a cause together.”

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