One senior receives gold award for logging more than 250 hours of community service in the San Antonio community
by Susie P. Gonzalez
Because her parents were camp directors, Trinity University senior May Lea Watson says she "grew up" in summer camps – an enriching experience that she is sharing with at-risk kids on San Antonio's West Side and plans to continue when she graduates in May.
She was one of 20 Trinity students honored in February with the President's Volunteer Service Award, and she was the only one to receive a gold award. That's because she logged more than 250 service hours in 2014; in fact, the online social network for volunteers, GiveGab, recorded precisely 263.5 community service hours last year for her.
Watson, who is from Wimberley, Texas, is majoring in urban studies and also is a Student Ambassador, began volunteering as a first-year student with the Multilevel Educational Youth Outreach at the Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the city's inner West Side. She became active with the agency's Peace Pals program for students in grades 1-5 and the House of Teens for students in grades 6-12. Summers are dedicated to Peace Camps.
"For most of these kids, their parents work all day," she said. "We believe they are already at a disadvantage, coming from high poverty, and most are first generation, so we want to offer a safe, loving community." If the students are not in school, they need to be somewhere, to be served meals, and to experience the camp culture, Watson said, adding that inner-city youths who attend "after the bell programs" such as after-school and summer camps, gain social confidence and are more likely to attend college.
Has it been easy? Not at first, Watson said. The children thought she might drop in for a short time and disappear but when she stayed an entire semester, they began to remember her name. Now, she said they constantly ask, "When does Peace Camp start?" In return, Watson has fallen in love with the kids.
The program has been woven into the Trinity University Volunteer Action Community (TUVAC) choice of volunteer offerings, and between eight and 12 other Trinity students have joined Watson at the camps, offering snacks, playing basketball, and perfecting arts and crafts projects, among other activities.
"I'm passionate about this program," Watson said. "My ultimate big picture is that I dream of a national urban-based camp nonprofit program so there can be a lot of peace camps everywhere."
Since 2008, Trinity has been named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the University's commitment to the local and global community. But this year is the first time for individual students to be recognized for the commitment to the world through service.
Edwin Blanton, coordinator of Community Service and Engagement with Trinity's Student Involvement Office, said the 19 other students who were recognized for stellar volunteer service logged a minimum of 100 hours in 2014 at places such as the San Antonio Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, other after-school programs, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
Seven students recorded between 175 and 249 service hours in 2014 and received the silver President's Volunteer Service Award, while 12 students logged between 100 and 174 service hours, receiving the bronze award.
Susie P. Gonzalez, director of public and media relations in the Office of University Communications, can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu.