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Freshmen Plunge Into Volunteering

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September 7, 2005

While many incoming Northwestern freshmen get oriented by taking a library tour and visiting the Field Museum, a few arrive on campus early to learn about a different aspect of college life: community service.

The Freshman Urban Program (FUP) is a pre-New Student Week venture for students to immerse themselves in the Evanston and Chicago communities. Arriving on Sept. 7, one week prior to other freshmen, these 70 students stay in a hostel in the Loop and travel around the city for six days volunteering and learning about the social issues that are important in the area. 

“For students who have never been to Chicago, this is a deeper introduction to the city than they would otherwise experience,” says Student Community Services Coordinator Suzan Akin, advisor to FUP. “They learn the surface level stuff like being comfortable with the El, but also that there are things you can have an affect on for the four years you’re here.”

From Pilsen and Bronzeville to Rogers Park and Evanston, FUPpers (as they call themselves) choose the issues that interest them and go off in small groups to offer their services. They take bus tours of public housing sites and depressed areas of the city. They also participate in community arts related projects and visit the Chicago Food Depository. According to Akin, FUP is based on the theory of asset-based community development. It embraces the philosophy that “the resources necessary to improve a community can be found within the people of that community.”

“We’re becoming partners with the community,” says FUP co-chair and student Tyler Jaeckel. “It’s different than charity work. Through FUP we’re becoming full partners and making an investment to each other.” 

To FUP organizers, it’s not sufficient to only volunteer services. Students must really learn how to affect change. Northwestern faculty members and leaders in the community come in and speak about social issues. After each day of work, FUPpers come together to share and reflect on their experiences.

The ultimate goal of FUP is to spark interest in continuous volunteering during the school year. Foster Reading Center, Connections for the Homeless, Centro Romero, People’s Music School and BeeHIV are a few of the beneficiaries.

“We try to pick sites with regular volunteer hours so students can get connected easily,” says Jaeckel. “Most FUPpers go back and volunteer through Northwestern community service organizations.”

This is Jaeckel’s fourth year being involved with FUP and over the years he has seen the powerful change that takes place in the community, and also in his fellow students.

“My best experience was coming back the second year,” he says. “I had more knowledge from Northwestern about different communities and social issues and I had already been introduced to them. It was great being able to connect everything back to the communities I went to.”