Eastern wins national award for impact in community service efforts

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer

In the 2010 United States Census, 38.8 percent of Cheney residents were below the poverty level.

Eastern’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE), and its student leaders, contribute to programs like the Mobile Food Bank and Feed Cheney in order to ease the burden on struggling families. Because of their involvement in the community, Eastern was awarded the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll award.

Molly Ayers, director of OCE, said she applied for the award in April.

To apply, applicants had to describe how their efforts helped communities and students work together to solve community problems.

“I collect all of the service and engagement stats for the university and that data gets compiled and put into the application,” said Ayers. “So that would include sorority and fraternity life, they send me their service numbers annually, I work with residence life and collected their service numbers and our office does a lot of service and community engagement.”

Outlined on the Corporation for National and Community Service website are the four levels of the award. The Presidential Award is the highest honor and is only offered to four institutions.

Eastern received the lowest award, meeting the statutory seven percent minimum Federal Work-Study community service requirement.

“I think the award demonstrates that Eastern is an engaged campus,” said Ayers. “My office was established in 2012, and in terms of co-curricular service it’s grown exponentially. I think there has been about [a] 150 percent increase since the 2011 academic year until now, in terms of the amount of students involved.”

Ayers said in the past month, 500 students have received service hours for being involved in events like Eagle Up!, Harvest Fest, Service Saturday and the mobile food banks.

OCE pays for these events and programs with AmeriCorps VISTA grants. According to the AmeriCorps VISTA, they are a national service program established to fight poverty.

Gabby Ryan, Eagle Volunteers program coordinator and member of the AmeriCorps VISTA, said she believes in the community engagement that Ayers is establishing at Eastern.

Ryan said every month the OCE gives away 700 pounds of food for the Feed Cheney program. In February, the OCE will establish another Feed Cheney distribution center in Brewster Hall.

“Hunger is a huge issue here on campus,” said Ryan. “We feel like there is a stigma attached to accessing the food, like students don’t want to be clients and wait in line at a food distribution center. We want to eliminate that. We don’t want them to feel like they can’t access the food or that they are any less deserving. Having it on campus, we’ll hopefully see more students accessing it.”

The OCE’s next project is Nov. 16-22, National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

The kickoff event is a showing of the “Storied Streets,” a documentary that covers the issues of homelessness in 13 cities across the U.S. The documentary will be shown in Patterson Hall 128 and in the Riverpoint auditorium at 4 p.m., Nov. 16. Other events include lunch at The House of Charity in Spokane as part of Food for Thought and a hunger banquet and sleep-in.

The sleep-in will take place on Nov. 21 from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. in Streeter Hall’s lounge. The sleep-in will simulate what it is like sleeping on the streets, with scheduled events occurring over the night.

“It might not be as fun or connecting as working with kids, but I’m hoping we see a huge turnout for this,” said Ayers.

Hilary Beardslee, one of the 14 student leaders in the OCE, is helping coordinate the events.

Beardslee said participating in Food for Thought, and actually getting a chance to talk to people, is a rewarding experience.

Ayers said there are 30 spaces available for the Food for Thought event and she would love to see them all filled.

“There is an assumption that people who are struggling are sad, but they don’t always see themselves that way,” said Beardslee. “It’s amazing how much you can learn from talking to them and how much your heart can grow.”