Skip to main content





Dec. 09, 2011
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Office: 724.738.4854
 Cell: 724.991.8302


University volunteers aid local economy, improve lives

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – When Slippery Rock University students, faculty and staff volunteer in their communities, they do a lot more than fight hunger for a day. Their service provides an economic impact equaling at least $1 million. 
             SRU employees volunteered 31,830 hours in fiscal 2011, according to the results of a recent Community Engagement Survey. At an estimated dollar value of $20.51 per hour, volunteers contributed $652,833 toward the development and quality of life in their communities. An SRU economic development report shows students contributed 17,035 volunteer hours, equaling $349,387 in economic impact. The combined total is $1,002,220.
             “It shows that community service is engrained in the University, and that we are a caring institution,” said Carrie Birckbichler, SRU director of institutional research and a volunteer. “It comes across in the work environment and the educational environment.”
RU embraces community service as a core value; it defines the University’s spirit and underpins its vision to excel as a caring community of lifelong learners connecting with the world. The University’s “Reaching for 2025 and Beyond” strategic plan reinforces the importance of civic engagement, including volunteerism.
            “We expect our employees to be models of the values and civic responsibilities to which we wish our students to aspire,” said Robert Smith, SRU president.
         Most likely, SRU’s economic impact through volunteerism is even higher than $1 million, Birckbichler said. Many service projects by Greek organizations and other campus groups are never accounted for, and there is no way of knowing whether everyone who volunteers responded to the Community Engagement Survey. The University asked employees about their community service to collect measures of the University’s economic contribution for an economic development report to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
SRU employees walk-the-walk by volunteering with a number of organizations. They volunteer at hospices and nursing homes and serve on school boards. They organize Special Olympics, raise money for Lion’s Clubs and serve with Habitat for Humanity, the American Heart Association, Meals on Wheels and other groups. They provide leadership in churches, VFWs, youth groups, arts organizations and other non-profit organizations.
            The Community Engagement Survey shows that 114 faculty members volunteered 17,233 hours; 110 staff volunteered 14,597 hours.  Students typically volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, provide tutoring and after-school services or participate in spring Care Breaks across the country, according to SRU’s economic development report for the state system.
            Birckbichler said she serves as a United Way board of director and with the local chapter of The ARC. She said volunteering impacts communities and people in many ways.
            “Volunteering used to be about input, but now it’s more about the output, just like academic assessment,” she said. “What is the outcome of the times or dollars that are contributed? There has to be an outcome. There has to be an impact.”
            Susan Herman, assistant professor of exercise and rehabilitative sciences, serves as president of the Grove City school board and volunteers with numerous organizations. She coaches Little League, YMCA girls softball, volunteers with Meals on Wheels, organizes more than 50 Zumba fundraisers a year and is a member of Delta Gamma Gamma, an educational service organization that promotes opportunities for women.
            “I have been involved in education for the past 32 years and value the opportunity to make a difference with today’s youth,” she said.
            Ciarra Karnes, a psychology major from New Castle, said she is an AmeriCorps member and volunteer with Covenant House, a shelter for women and children who have been through domestic violence or are homeless. Karnes said she commits 10 hours a week to volunteering.
       Karnes also teaches a program called “Windows of the World.”
            “Each week the kids and I travel to a different place so that we can experience different cultures. I volunteer with the Intermediate Unit in Grove City to help raise awareness for homeless issues,” she said. “I travel to give speeches about homelessness at different conferences. I also meet with families and children who are homeless to make sure that they stay on the right track and reach their true potential. The project that I did this semester was making fleece tie blankets to distribute to homeless children in Lawrence, Butler and Mercer counties. We are making a total of 50 blankets and each blanket will have an emergency contact number stitched on so the children can call someone if they need help.”
            Karnes said she gets much satisfaction from volunteering. “Helping others in big and small ways can change your life,” she said. “When anyone spends time with people who are different from themselves they learn more about themselves, and they also learn more about people of different backgrounds, and they learn how to talk to people of different backgrounds. Volunteering opens your eyes to see that not everyone is the same as you, and some people really have a rough life, which makes you appreciate what you have. The best thing I think about volunteering is when you see someone’s face light up just because you are there to help them.”
            Noreen Herilhy, SRU women’s soccer coach, said she learned a lesson about volunteering when her father was
terminally ill with cancer. The hospice care he received provided comfort and instilled in her a deeper commitment to service.
             “Just to see the care he got and dignity he was given by compassionate people at the end of his life was really amazing,” Herlihy said. “When you go through something like that, especially as an adult, it produces an effect on you and you want to give back.”
            While the hours can be long, Herlihy said a simple human gesture often makes the biggest difference for a person in pain.
         “I volunteer at a hospice in Butler and help out in any way I can,” Herlihy said. “I visit and spend time with people and give support to patients. Sometimes I read to them or chat with them. Sometimes it can be a simple as holding their hand.” 
            Demonstrating an ethic of service, SRU employees say, is one way to help influence students to develop their own sense of civic engagement.
            Faculty mentors teach by example and are honored to do so, said Kathleen Strickland, SRU dean of the College of Education. Strickland serves as vice president of the Slippery Rock Area School Board. She also volunteers as chair of the education programming committee.
It is really a privilege to work with other people in the community, to bring different perspectives and different experiences to the table,” she said. “We’re all there for one purpose, to serve children. My experience on the school board has been very enlightening, and it has been very helpful to me. Here at the University we’re preparing teachers, so the school board work completes the educational picture.”
Debbie Hutchins, who teaches therapeutic recreation at SRU, is a certified therapy dog handler. She and “Patches” visit with nursing home residents in Saxonburg. “It is really amazing to see how these visits lift the spirits of many residents.”
            Helping develop people who understand societies problems and who will work to solve those problems is important work, said Michelle McCollin, special education professor. McCollin does special education volunteer work and is involved with her church.
            “I believe that thoughtful, committed people can change the world,” she said. “Service to others is one of the focal points of my life. As professors and mentors of young people, we must set the example and be the advocates for engagement. Simply put, we must practice what we preach.”