This simple two-word sentence can have a multitude of meanings depending on who you ask. For some, it is simply a slogan plastered onto a crisp blue t-shirt. For others, it brings back warm memories of first-year orientation, and the bonding experience that volunteer work provided. For members of the Community Outreach and Opportunity Project, or COOP for short, though, it holds much more significance. For these individuals, “Hamilton serves” is a lifestyle.
As its name suggests, COOP is an organization dedicated to creating, managing and facilitating community outreach programs. It encompasses a variety of service and outreach programs conducted by Hamilton college students and administrators, including America Reads, Sidekicks, CSI (COOP Service Internships), Let's Get Ready, Outreach Adventure, Hamilton Serves, and A Better Chance tutoring. While each of these programs provide distinct services and cater to specific groups of individuals, they nevertheless share a common purpose.
According to Amy James, the director of COOP, the programs are unified in their efforts “to build bridges with the community, assist with community needs, provide opportunities for our students to share their strengths with local non-profits, educate students about issues of poverty, policy and education, as well as to provide students with career-related opportunities.”
Ambitious and transformative, the COOP program seeks to change not only the lives of those within the community, but those of the members of COOP as well. The Hamilton students who work with the COOP offer their time, skills, and commitment to a plethora of worthy local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, Upstate Cerebral Palsy and many others.
Founded in 2009, COOP Service Internships, or CSIs for short, are awarded to a group of eight to nine first-year students each year, providing each with a unique internship opportunity within one of the local nonprofits. In exchange for their volunteer and internship work, the students gain invaluable career experience as well as a deeper understanding of the true meaning of service.
“I can use my time and abilities to make a difference in someone else’s life,” proclaimed Leah Pranschke ’17, a site coordinator for the American Reads program. In that role she leads a team of literacy tutors who work with second graders at the Watson Williams Elementary School in Utica. More than simply teaching the kids to read, Leah and the tutors are focused on having the children learn to love the reading process.
At its core, the America Reads program is providing a service that changes lives, allowing interns to have a significant, positive effect on the future of another. According to Leah, “That, to me, is what really matters.”
For many of the CSI interns, what begins as a first-year semester of volunteer work evolves into an integral part of one’s Hamilton experience. Shannon O’Brien ’15 has been an active member of COOP for each of her four years. What started as a simple tutoring job has transformed into an impressive resumé. As an Outreach Adventure leader, a HAVOC site coordinator, an Alternative Spring Break leader and executive board member, and a COOP senior fellow, O’Brien carries a great deal of responsibility. But rather than shy away from the challenge, she embraces it, “I love community service and social justice initiatives, and the COOP has both inspired me and propelled me further to explore this passion.”
The COOP Service Internship program not only provides students with the opportunity to cultivate their passion for service and their commitment to the betterment of others, it also unites individuals of like-mind, affording the interns the chance to develop deep and meaningful relationships both on and off campus. Emily Pitman ’15, a Senior Fellow in the COOP, understands this dynamic quite well. As the director of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) programs, she manages a group of 20 ASB leaders, oversees the logistical planning of 10 trips, and organizes a variety of fundraising events.
A result of the hard work of Pitman and many others, Hamilton students are able to travel throughout the United States, serving others and forming long-lasting bonds.
“ASB is amazing,” reflects Pitman, “it is one of the few opportunities throughout college when you can meet an entirely new group of people and create fantastic friendships, all while helping others.”
Whatever the form, a commitment to service is life changing. Since its inception, COOP has facilitated this commitment, becoming an integral part of the lives of many Hamilton students. For these students, service isn’t just a word, nor is it an obligation; for these individuals, service is a lifestyle.