Clutching a radio in one hand and maintaining a vice grip on her cell phone in the other, Charlene Elvers sped from place to place on the track, her decisive movements contrasting sharply to what one would expect at 7 a.m. in the morning on a college campus.
Elvers, the director of student volunteer programs at Springfield College, is the driving force behind the operation of Humanics in Action Day, which took place on Sept. 25th. For the past 13 years, she has been a constant presence at the kickoff event, but one that has often times gone overlooked.
“I’m actually more comfortable being in the background. That’s usually what I do. I coordinate things,” Elvers said. “In most of the programs I work with, I’m hopefully in the background, because this is really about the community and about the students and the college.”
So while President Richard B. Flynn and Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno gave opening speeches before the volunteers, who were comprised of students, faculty and staff, Elvers whizzed around taking care of last-minute details.
The day before, Elvers and a team worked in advance to organize equipment the facilities department ordered and moved to the track shed from the HIAD shed, where it is stored for the rest of the year.
“We had to figure out what equipment every project needed, and then bundle that by project number, so that the site leaders would have the appropriate equipment for the day,” Elvers said. “It was a lot of piecing things together, and we try to make it as easy for the site leaders as possible, so that everything they need is right on the track when they get there.”
Elvers and her team started sorting the equipment by individual site at 3 p.m. on Sept. 24, and then moved those bundles out to their appropriate spots on the infield grass at the track starting at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 25. Site leaders showed up earlier than regular participants because they were in charge of overseeing the 105 sites. They were comprised of AmeriCorps members, athletic coaches and faculty such as Peter Polito, a professor of Computer Science and Physics and the founder of Humanics in Action Day.
Polito was the Distinguished Professor of Humanics in 1998-99, and for his project he initiated the day that has become a tradition spanning over the course of 15 years.
“It’s fantastic. I’m so happy that the college has maintained it as a tradition,” Polito said. “It serves to kick off all the good things we do throughout the year.”
On the morning of Humanics in Action Day, Elvers took care of whatever problems arose, from five cancelled sites to a site leader calling in sick. She had help from a handful of supporters who all stayed in constant communication through both radio and over the phone. This communication was at its finest after the buses departed with the approximately 1,800 students, faculty and staff to their respective sites. At that time, Elvers and several other faculty members loaded up four school vans with extra equipment such as gloves, rakes, trash bags and water and started driving around the city.
Each van was responsible for a quadrant of the city where projects were being held. If site leaders called requesting additional supplies, the vans would communicate and get it dropped off as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“It’s [communication] incredibly important. People get frustrated when they show up at their site, and they don’t have the things they need to do to get their project done. I think people really do want to make a difference, and they want to get things done, but if they don’t have the proper tools, it’s pretty frustrating,” Elvers said. “So the fact that we can radio and communicate and have people out and about and deliver things pretty quickly has been great.”
Elvers and her riding partner, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Braverman, also stopped at sites, even when they did not need any additional supplies for an equally important reason.
“Some people have some pretty messy projects, and they’re tucked away on a side street, and there’s four people, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is seeing what they’re doing. So I think part of it is also to let people know [that] we’re here, we’re paying attention, we’re here if you need us, and we want to thank you and let you know that you’re doing a great job,” Elvers said.
Humanics in Action Day is all about people working as a team to accomplish something greater than themselves. Polito created the day of service with that exact purpose in mind.
“It’s very important that we remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. We tend to get wrapped up in our daily routines and forget sometimes that we’re all part of the same community, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same goals, and an event like this reminds us of that,” Polito said. “The status that you carry because of your position is stripped away. You’re all working side by side and shoulder to shoulder pulling weeds out of the ground and painting, and working with children. It puts everyone on the same common playing field.”
Freshman Kathleen Burke, a Pre-Camper, was just one among the multitude of SC freshmen experiencing Humanics in Action Day for the first time.
“I loved seeing the whole community pull together. It’s amazing to get this many people to voluntarily go out and do something good for the whole community,” Burke said. “I had heard about it, [but] I had never seen it actually followed through, and just to see the breadth of projects to be done was great.”
Similarly, junior Pre-Camp leader Mike McGowan has participated every year despite having the option to sleep in and relish a day off from classes.
“It’s just unique that Springfield College dedicates a day of no classes for us to go out into the community. I know it’s an option for me to do it, but I just couldn’t imagine not doing it,” McGowan said.
Elvers, Polito, Burke and McGowan, along with the rest of the selfless volunteers who participate and support the event every year, embrace the school’s Humanics philosophy. With another strong behind-the-scenes effort, Humanics in Action Day came to a successful completion. According to Polito, though, now the real work begins.
“Humanics is a way of life. You have to live it,” Polito said. “If you really believe in something, you do it every day of your life.”