Share / Discuss

One Saturday, So Many Ways to Serve

This program attracts students looking to test the waters of volunteerism

In high school, Iris Chan ’17 loved playing piano for local nursing home residents. Though she had been taking lessons since she was 5, volunteering for these public performances made clear the connection between service and joy.

So she joined the Lang Center’s Saturdays of Service program as a College freshman to continue nurturing that volunteer spirit. 

Today, she’s co-coordinator of events—with David Tian ’17—that include volunteering at Philabundance food bank, Cradles to Crayons, Philly AIDS Thrift, Share Food Pantry, and South Philadelphia High School Community Garden.

“I hope to go into public health,” says Chan, a biology major, “but community service will always be a part of whatever I do.” 

At Swarthmore, Chan enlisted five student musicians to bring their talents to a Bryn Mawr nursing and retirement home. Though some were already participating in Saturdays of Service, others were new to the program. 

“It was a great chance to expand our group and get different people interested in giving back to the community,” she says. “After our concert, the activity coordinator asked if we could play ‘Happy Birthday’ for one of the residents. It was so touching to see the wide smile on her face as we spontaneously sang for her. I think it helped other students see how music can transform people’s lives in tangible ways.”

“Volunteering is a way to get away from the Swarthmore bubble,” adds Tian, a biology major who started volunteering as a Boy Scout. “You can learn about socioeconomics in class, but there’s nothing quite like getting directly involved in the community that provides real-life context. With the workload here, it can be easy to get stressed. Getting off campus helps put your life in perspective.”

Among the places where they pitched in this winter is Books Through Bars in West Philadelphia. The nonprofit receives letters from prisoners requesting reading and educational materials. Volunteers sort through the reams of requests and pack the items, which aremailed to prisoners across the Mid-Atlantic region. 

“Reading the personal letters of the prisoners puts you in their shoes,” Tian says. Usually, about eight students attend the Books Through Bars events, taking the train together from Swarthmore. 

“People want to do some good in the world,” says Tian, who is planning for a career in science research. “We want to be the instigators who allow students to find new opportunities that they’re interested in.”