Students make a difference in community


Students build a trail with Sierra Foothill Conservancy at last year’s Make a Difference Day. Courtesy Melissa Jessen-Hiser

Fresno State boasts more than one million hours of community service from the last four years, and that number will increase Saturday with Make a Difference Day.

Volunteer work by students is made possible by the Jan & Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.

Assistant director Melissa Jessen-Hiser said the center helps students connect to the community through service and volunteering.

“I love working with university students, and I think it is such an incredible opportunity,” Jessen-Hiser said. “It is such a gift to work with people at this point in their life when they are trying to figure it out.  What do they want to do? Why they want to do it? Those of us that are here, we are so lucky to have an opportunity to impact students at that point in their life.”

The program has nine student ambassadors who volunteer their time for a full school year.  The ambassadors’ goal is to promote service to their peers.

“They are all students who are very passionate about service and want to get others involved,” Jessen-Hiser said.

Daniel Ward, Associated Students, Inc. senator-at-large for academic affairs and a Richter Center ambassador, said it is important for students to understand that to be a good leader means to willingly serve others.

“I absolutely love serving as a Richter Center student leader because I get to share my passion for service,” he said.

Ward will be one of about 90 volunteers who will work this Saturday at Make a Difference Day from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“It is a one-day service event where students will be at two different sites. Building hiking trails with Sierra Foothill Conservancy is one of them,” Jessen-Hiser said.  “Fresno State volunteers have helped build over five miles of trails at two separate preserves managed by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.”

The second location will be Holman Park in northwest Fresno.

Junior Amanda de Lima, who is also an ambassador, said she will be at Holman Park working with volunteers to resurface a playground area and paint lines on a parking lot.

De Lima said she got involved with the program because she wanted to fill her time at Fresno State by impacting others in a positive way.

“The ambassadors are the bridge between students and the Richter Center,” de Lima said. “I honestly believe that part of [a student’s] education is understanding how your job will eventually affect others. This can only be done if people know what community they are a part of. There is an empowering feeling associated with those that serve others caused by the knowledge that your action made a difference in someone else’s life.”

The nine ambassadors come from different majors.  Jessen-Hiser said that the ambassadors understand the different challenges that students face when trying to incorporate service.

“We do have one-day events, and if that is all you can fit into your life right now, then that is great,” Jessen-Hiser said. “We want you to do that.”

Jessen-Hiser is optimistic about the future of service at Fresno State.  She said service projects are student driven.  She credits that policy with keeping the projects innovative and students involved.

“I have seen it happen a lot where students get involved because maybe they have to, and then after a while it is transformative,” Jessen-Hiser said. “The way that they connect with the people in the community, they learn new information or they connect with somebody out there that they never would have connected with before. It offers them a new perspective on life.”

The Richter Center is located in the Thomas Building Room 107 and can be reached at 559.278.7079.


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