As a one-month period where many students’ only formal responsibility is one class, short term marks the perfect time to delve into community service projects in the greater Lewiston-Auburn area. One such noteworthy volunteer opportunity is the Blake Street Towers (BST). The Towers is a public residence-housing complex for the elderly and the young disabled of lower socioeconomic means. Every week, Bates students partake in fun activities with the residents – including playing board games, serving brunch or simply enjoying a friendly conversation.
The effort to increase the number of Bates volunteers at BST is currently lead by Matt Gee ’16, a Harward Center Student Volunteer Fellow (SVF). Although all SVFs work as a team, Gee’s primary focus is BST (volunteering at the Towers is part of Gee’s job description). Gee is also responsible for organizing the programs and recruiting volunteers for the Towers.
Specifically, Gee runs two programs a week for BST residents. Thursday afternoon is “game day” (Bates students play board games like Pokeno, Bingo, and Yahtzee with BST residents). On Sunday mornings, Bates students prepare and serve free brunch to the residents. Typically, 3 to 4 Bates students volunteer each day. Gee personally volunteers at BST twice a week.
“Since my second visit to BST I was hooked. I saw how happy the residents were to see us young people and I was determined to do everything that I could to make their lives more pleasant. My experience at BST has been very rewarding, and as an SVF I have gained leadership skills and learned the value of all people no matter what age or disability,” said Gee.
In addition to the weekly activities run by the SVF, in the past a number of Bates’ student organizations have also hosted special events for BST residents. For instance, Bates students have held Roots and Shoots gardening days for the residents. Also, various Bates a cappella groups and the Strange Bedfellows (Bates’ sole improvisational comedy group) have put on performances for the residents. Other past special events include holiday meals and parties. This short term, the Deansmen will be visiting the Towers.
“This short term I am planning a musical performance by a string quartet of Bates students and the Deansmen,” commented Gee.
So why should you volunteer at the Towers? Gee stresses BST’s relaxed and fun nature.
“People should volunteer at BST because it is a low commitment program. I know that many people want to volunteer but are afraid that if they volunteer once, they will be obligated to go every week. With the BST program, we have had volunteers that only come once to those who come every week. This program is also genuinely fun and rewarding. The “work” consists of playing games, cooking, and talking to people. Volunteers also enjoy seeing the noticeable mood lift in the residents due to their presence,” explained Gee.
While an afternoon of volunteering may not seem like a huge deal to a Bates student, one afternoon can have a substantial impact on one or more BST resident.
“The residents of BST love Bates students, so why not brighten someone’s day?” pointed out Gee.
There are a plethora of reasons to volunteer at the Towers such as lifting someone’s spirit, to relax, to have fun, as a study-break, for a community service project, etc. There are far fewer reasons not to volunteer. Chances are you, as a volunteer, will benefit just as much from your time at the Towers as the BST residents. What do you have to lose?