Hoots, cheers and an occasional chant peppered the recent Center for Leadership & Service annual banquet. The celebration recognized students who spent nearly as much time during the past year organizing and completing community service projects as they did studying.
Beyond providing personal fulfillment, the hours dedicated to planning large-scale charitable events and carrying out activities in support of others should have a powerful effect on students’ futures, including careers.
Along with several of her peers, Luly Sanchez, a graduating senior in psychology, devoted 12 months to planning the Relay for Life fundraiser that netted more than $115,000 for the American Cancer Society in February. The center provided leadership training and encouragement to help her juggle the commitment with a part-time job and a full load of classes.
“The organization helps you with leadership and becoming more organized, becoming an overall well-rounded person because it puts you in a situation where you’re doing things for other people,” she said.
Possessing such qualities will pay off for students after graduation as will the experience of holding leadership positions as undergraduates. Junior education major Vanessa Zach held the title of site coordinator for an Alternative Breaks trip to North Carolina during the winter holidays. She and a peer made travel arrangements for themselves and the eight others who served at a group home for abused and neglected girls. She also headed up fundraising efforts that collected some $3,000 to buy personal items such as towels, toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent for the teens.
“What drove me was to do something selfless, to step out of myself and be there for people who really needed someone,” said Zach, who in the coming year will serve as the director of strategic planning for Alternative Breaks.
Example from an alumna
The long-term impact of learning to lead through service came through loud and clear in the special appearance of alumna Marly Quincoces, a motivational speaker and head of her own event-planning company. Quincoces was already an overachiever when she arrived at the university in 2002. She entered with some 5,000 volunteer hours to her credit and quickly introduced herself to the center’s director, Beverly Dalrymple, thereafter an important force in the younger woman’s life.
“You helped me just really get confident in knowing as a student, and now as a professional, that there’s nothing you can’t do every single day . . . to make a difference,” Quincoces told Dalrymple from the stage. And she reminded the students in attendance that “the beautiful seeds of kindness and service and leadership” that are planted during their undergraduate years “stay with you for the rest of your life.”
The 2006 graduate also shared a practical example of how the center’s leadership training influenced her life’s work. When thinking about establishing a nonprofit in 2010, Quincoces said she got out the binder distributed during a workshop she had completed six years earlier. She turned to the page on which she had written her “vision” for her future: to create an organization that would empower others. The result is PARK Project, which last year raised more than $200,000 for South Florida charities and public schools.
A life defined by service
Dalrymple, the center’s founding director, reflected recently that the center’s combining of leadership training with service can truly set the stage for later success in life. But the value goes well beyond preparation for paid work or running a business, she said. “It also builds that sense of civic responsibility. Students are developing themselves as citizens who are going to take responsibility for their own communities in whatever role they assume.”
Dalrymple will retire in June after a 30-year career at FIU during which she inspired thousands of students. An impending move out of state will not dampen her own commitment to service.
“I don’t know what it is yet,” she said, “but I do know that I will need to continue this kind of work. I want to be the person out there giving what I know, doing what I can for the community.”