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Overview of Webster Works Worldwide

by Chavon Chester

On Oct. 71, Webster University hosted its annual Webster Works Worldwide, a day of university wide community service. The event was hosted by Webster's main St. Louis campus, as well as each of the campuses worldwide.

WWW is a day of service. The university all but shuts down for a day to encourage both students and faculty to participate in volunteer projects around the community. Its size and participation has been steadily increasing. Just eight years ago, Webster's St. Louis campus hosted only 91 projects and 823 volunteers. This year there were 120 projects, 1,298 volunteers and over 6,490 hours worked between them.

According to special events coordinator Jennifer Willis, when the project started back in 1995, it was a small affair, with only a few dozen volunteers and even fewer projects, and the event has increased in size each year. The project began when the former university president Richard Myers was to be inaugurated in 1995. Tradition called for the inauguration to be celebrated with a large gala all over campus. But when Myers came, he asked instead that the university take the day and put the money for the gala towards hosting a day of service. The first WWW was held only on the St. Louis campus, and it has grown into a tradition from that.

"I think it's really important for students and faculty and staff to take a day off and serve for a couple of reasons," Willis said. "It's a good way for people to meet each other. It opens your eyes to what's going on with others in the world. And it feels good to just go out and help people. And it improves the reputation of the university."

In addition to the social aspects of it, Willis also believes that the program has more positive effects for students.

"It's just one day, but hopefully it acts as a springboard for more community service," Willis said. "If they go out and get a free T-shirt and a day off, hopefully they'll want to keep doing it."

This year's WWW was organized by Willis and a planning board of faculty, staff and students. Two students from Student Government Association (SGA) were charged with bringing ideas back to the board from their student meetings, and participants from Academic Affairs helped organize the event with the extended campuses.

The project at Webster's extended campuses hasn't quite taken hold the way it has here. 84 of the extended campuses worldwide that participated this year totaled only 1,097 volunteers -- about 200 fewer than the St. Louis campus alone. Willis, however, suggested that this might be because many of the extended campuses are smaller schools that usually offer night classes to adults, who simply don't have the time to participate in WWW. To compensate for this, a few projects were offered during early morning hours and even on the following weekend.

The program, though beneficial to the community, has its kinks. Some students found the website where the programs were listed hard to navigate. Others had trouble finding projects or getting in touch with team leaders. Some team leaders had trouble getting a hold of the volunteer site representatives, and some volunteers have complained that the organization they worked for didn't seem very orderly.

 Also, a main problem is that the program isn't mandated. Professors aren't required to cancel class, and while most do some still hold class. So, while many students want to participate in WWW, they simply aren't able to, because they have to attend class on that day instead. While some on the planning committee would like a mandatory canceling of classes, there are obstacles in their way. To pass a regulation like that, the faculty must approve it. It has never had enough support to pass according to Assistant Director of Housing John Buck, who has served on the Webster Works Worldwide planning committee for several years.

Willis, however, is content with the program not being mandated, and thinks it's better that way.

"Community service is a volunteer effort, and if someone feels they would rather be in class then they should have that option," Willis said. "The spirit of community service isn't something that should be mandated, but it should just come from the heart."

There are some arguments to this case, though for different reasons.. Since professors are encouraged to cancel class, and the university nearly closes for the day, there is a possibility that this could be a problem in the future. Many, including Buck, disagree.

"I don't think there are any negative effects to it, for two reasons." Buck said. "One, it's important for people to do community service and give back. And two, for a university or college, there's a lot of service learning that comes out of service. A lot of faculty does incorporate the whole day into what they're going to learn. I don't think there's any downside to it at all. I think there's nothing but good."

Some participants, like freshman Rose Winkle, share Buck and Willis' sentiments. Winkle served as a team leader for a project at Grace Hill Headstart, where she worked with young children. She believes in the importance of volunteer work, enjoyed her time participating in WWW this year and feels that there is no harm in students missing one day of class to do service work.

"I think each student is at a maturity level where they're able to keep up with their assignments if they miss class for one day," Winkle said. "And I think teachers should volunteer too. And, it encourages people to participate. If they said that everyone was going to volunteer on one day but everyone had class, then no one would participate."

While there are a few things that participants wish they could change; Buck wishes that professors would be mandated to cancel classes. Winkle wants there to be more than one day a year, perhaps one day a semester: The program overall appeared to go over well and was viewed as beneficial to those who participated, Winkle said.

"I think they gained a sense of accomplishment because they were able to get something done that wasn't asked of them," Winkle said. "And they were able to give some of their time, and I think time is one of the most important things can give, because it's something you can't get back."