Last week students at Springfield College went through a full five days of classes. That’s not out of the ordinary for a college campus to put in a full five days in the month of September. For Springfield College however, it was unusual, because usually in late September there is a day where classes are cancelled for “Humanics in Action Day.”
This year, Humanics in Action Day took place in conjunction with New Student Orientation. Only first-year students participated, and the cancellation of the annual event was not widely communicated to the campus.
Peter Polito, a retired Springfield College professor who taught at the school for 44 years from 1970 to 2015, founded the day with leaders from the New Student Orientation (NSO) program. “I wanted to really form a Humanics in Action Day that would incorporate all of the students,” Polito said.
His vision involved everyone on campus working towards a common goal.
“Not only the first-year students [participate], but also the entire campus body. Humanics in Action Day began with this commitment by New Student Orientation, myself, and all of the other offices on campus.”
For nearly 20 years, Humanics in Action Day carried on strong, but now things are changing. Humanics in Action is no longer one single day; now it is a year-long event. It is voluntary for students, and there will be more projects available and more options on when and how to sign up.
For Polito, he had some concerns after being present at the event with NSO this past fall. “When I went to that Humanics in Action day this fall, I was sad. When I went out with the students I had, they really didn’t understand what they were doing,” he said.
The students had not been fully informed on their service projects and that led to some confusion on the meaning of the service.
“They said ‘do you know what we’re doing out here?’ and I told them what the reason was and all of that. Whatever they were told, it was not enough, there has to be some education that this is why we do this thing,” Polito said. “There is a mission of the college and a philosophy of the college where whatever we do, we give service to humanity.”
The change could be met with skepticism, but the college has a plan in place. Charlene Elvers, the Director of the Center for Service and Leadership, is one of the key pieces helping to initiate and plan the change.
“The new plan, really, is to create opportunities for students to register for service projects throughout the year,” she said. “So, students could register just once, like Humanics in Action Day, or they can register monthly or get involved in something for any amount of time,” Elvers said.
Humanics in Action Day was a great tradition, but the program had faltered in the past due to the lack of follow-up after the one day. “The goal is to get students to volunteer more than once in a year. Humanics in Action Day was a great event, but there really wasn’t a good follow-up to that to get students to continue serving. It was kind of a big, splashy day and then that day was over and a lot of the opportunities that followed up with that required a weekly commitment,’ Elvers said.
The school had to continually turn down calls from the community.
“We got to the point, year after year, especially last year, where after Humanics in Action Day, the week after I would get 25 phone calls saying ‘that was great that your students came out last week, but I really need more help,’” Elvers said.
All along, the intention of the program was to help the community and bring students together. Elvers believes the new way of doing things will satisfy that intention.
“The community was asking for us and asking for more than just that day. I think that moving towards this year-long program and taking the resources from that day and putting it into this is absolutely the way to go.”
Polito wants to be sure that the program continues to educate students and hold a purpose. “It’s very important that we educate; you have to educate what this is about. Plain and simple, you can’t have people participate without knowing what it’s for,” he said.
Elvers and the rest of her department already have some new projects in mind, and they have a plan for making sure the students know why they are doing the service projects they signed up for.
“We are doing a monthly program called ‘Let’s Play.’ Where one Saturday a month we are getting a group of people together, a team, or a club, or any group of people and we’re going to offer games and recreational opportunities for kids in the community,” Elvers said.
The projects are open to students in any grade level on campus. They can sign up as individuals, or as a group and they pick a date and time that is convenient for them.
“At the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement the first Friday of every month, we’re offering a family event. Any group of students or residence halls, any student that has an idea – whether it’s bingo or glo-tag, whatever it is, we can offer that at the Center. I will supply all of the equipment or any supplies; we just need the volunteers,” Elvers said.
In addition to those programs, Jezavya Rivera of the Center for Service and Leadership, has started a program called “The Walking School Bus.” Springfield College students can volunteer to walk young children from the neighborhood to school if their parent or guardian is busy.
All of the new projects have a common theme: they are more than once-a-year events. Rather than one day, they are weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or whatever it may be. More importantly, with every project comes a lesson behind it.
“When you sign up and register to volunteer for something, along with that you’re going to register for an orientation program,” Elvers said. “It’s going to be very brief, maybe 30 minutes. Before you go do your service, you’ll meet with someone in this office, there’s going to be a few of us who are going to lead these programs, and we’re going to talk to you a little bit about what’s going on in the neighborhood, and then more specifically about what you signed up for and why it’s important.”
The change will provide students with more background, and is right in line with what Polito wanted to see.
“This program is going to give us this opportunity that really we didn’t have with Humanics in Action Day, to talk to people before they go out and do service and give them a little more information and also allow them to ask us questions. That’s going to be part of this as well,” she said.
The transition will not happen overnight, a change to a program as big as Humanics in Action Day will take years to build. As time goes on though, the payoff could prove to be worth it, if the campus buys in.
“It’s not going to happen if everyone doesn’t support it. This happens because the students are here, not because of anyone else,” Polito said. “It’s the students, it’s the 1,500 or more students who participate along with the faculty, staff, and employees that makes it work. It has to come from the students and be supported by the faculty and everyone else.”
Polito got the ball rolling on Humanics, and now, starting in 2018 current members of Springfield College have a chance to carry the torch and the tradition of serving others and helping those in need.
“You have to look ahead, but don’t forget the past,” Polito said. “Why is there tradition, and why is that tradition so important to you? Maybe that’s the question that should be asked. What is the importance of that tradition?”