From their very first days on the hill, Hamilton students dedicate major portions of their college careers to community outreach and volunteer service. The Hamilton College COOP, or Community Outreach and Opportunity Project, provides Hamilton students with countless rewarding opportunities to volunteer and lend a helping hand to those in need.
At Hamilton, learning extends far beyond the classroom. From the Outreach Adventure pre-orientation trip, to the Off the Hill Challenge in the autumn, to Alternative Spring Break service trips in March, students at Hamilton take advantage of the opportunity to give back to their communities and learn about the world around them and about themselves as much as possible. While there are many students involved in community outreach, and many different ways to cultivate and pursue one’s interests, a select group has chosen to get to “know thyself” through a dedicated volunteer program with an impressive commitment to giving back.
Each year, the COOP Service Internships, or CSIs, are awarded to eight first-year students that have demonstrated an impressive passion for community outreach. Through the CSI program, these students engage in unique internship experiences with local non-profit organizations. “It’s a two year internship, so it really allows students to become deeply involved on a long-term basis off the hill” says Director of Community Outreach Amy James. These students gain an incredible wealth of knowledge about the nature of community service, the needs of different communities, and, above all, they develop a keen understanding of who they are and what they truly care about.
This year’s CSIs are assistants teaching in after school autism programs, volunteering at local arts centers, facilitating reading programs for students with down’s syndrome, assisting on habitat restoration projects, and interning for United Way, Underground Café, and the On Point for College program. Whether they are working as a teacher, an assistant, or an administrator, these students have become deeply involved in programs that not only cater to their personal aspirations and interests, but that also allow them to positively contribute to the local community as well.
One of this year’s new CSIs, Maggie Horne ’19, discussed her personal reasons for applying to the CSI program, and shared some of the lessons she has learned through her work thus far while volunteering for BOCES’s Autism program. “I’ve been volunteering my whole life, and I knew I wanted to continue that work here at Hamilton. In high school, I taught swim lessons to children with autism. I learned through that experience and through my involvement in the CSI program so far … I want my primary career focus to involve working with disabled or less fortunate kids to create opportunities and learn life skills,” she remarked.
According to Sarah Graves ’15, a COOP senior fellow, CSI program advisor and former CSI intern, these internship experiences prove vital for students who hope to go into non-profit or volunteer work as their profession. “My experience as an intern really opened my eyes to the ins and outs of how a non-profit organization does, or does not, function. Coming into Hamilton I had no idea what I wanted to do. Now, I know that I want to go to law school and do social justice, whether that is social work or family and education planning.”
Community service can be a rewarding and life-altering experience. Luckily for the students up on the hill, Hamilton fosters an environment in which every student can “know thyself” on a deeper level through their experiences giving back to others. For the CSI interns, however, service is not merely a piece of their Hamilton experience, but a defining experience in itself. Through their work with the COOP program, these eight students can spend the next four years of their lives learning more about who they are, where there are, how things came to be the way they are, and how they can improve their communities by doing what they love: serving others.