Thanksgiving seems to be a peak for volunteering during the holiday season, but the amount of volunteers tends to decline at the start of a new semester.
Hundred Nights director Mindy Cambiar said she expects a drop in both high school and Keene State College student involvement between now and April.
Most students who signed up during October orientations are unable to continue through the whole season.
“[Students] can only sign up until mid-December because then break happens and they don’t know what their schedules are going to be like when they come back,” Cambiar said.
Not all students leave volunteering behind as winter break begins. KSC junior Briae Robillard has been volunteering weekly since November and plans to stick to her routine until the end of the season in April.
“I go on Friday nights and no one really goes on Friday nights, especially towards the end of the semester,” Robillard said. “I think a lot of it comes from family tradition of helping out or maybe they are obligated to because of an organization and they figured that it’s the time that more volunteers are needed and are providing a lot of meals or gifts for the holidays.”
KSC junior and E-board member of Circle-K Nicole Root said she also believes the reason why more students volunteer during the holidays is because it is the season of giving and said that this is why KSC’s Circle-K tends to do donations for the shelter around the same time.
Other annual volunteering by KSC groups include TKE’s TKE in a Box for homelessness awareness, Sororities who cook dinner to bring to the shelter, and some classes that contribute their time with the non-profit.
KSC senior Laura Carvalho participated in one of those classes last spring. The sociology course, Homelessness in NH and USA, partners with Hundred Nights organization every other year.
Carvalho and the rest of her classmates learned about the statistics of homelessness, gained research skills, and dedicated their time to a registration shift and an overnight shift at the shelter.
“Before we went [to the shelter], we actually had some employees from Hundred Nights come talk to our class just about like things to talk to the homeless people about,” Carvalho said.
She added that she believes that many students may be intimidated to volunteer at first due to a stereotype of the homeless, “You always think the worst when you see people. When you are walking down the street you immediately judge them and move to the other side. But these people are not like that,” she said. “They are actually really nice.”
Both Carvalho and Robillard said they think students should not fear the time commitment despite the normal volunteering hours being 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and the option of overnight shifts. Robillard believes that students who have a drive for volunteering will make it a high priority in their schedules.
“It’s definitely doable if they write down their schedules and say ‘this is what I want to do, this is what I want to accomplish, and this is where I want to get involved,’” Robillard said.
Although the amount changes each year, Cambiar averages 10-15 KSC students come to orientation every October. Unfortunately, the number of community members in need of Hundred Nights’ services are growing faster and are much higher than the amount of volunteers.
“In 2016 I think we had 185 people in the shelter and something like 3,500 bed-nights,” Cambiar said.
A bed-night is considered as any time a person is housed in the shelter per night.
“Already there’s been a 40 percent increase from 2016 to 2017,” she added.
Cambiar said she believes that the economy plays a large role in the need for the shelter, and predicts that the amount of families and individuals needing help will only rise.
Volunteers can help the shelter in a variety of ways. This includes greeting and registration, sorting clothing, overnight supervisors, social media help, data entry, basic online filing work and people who are just willing to be there and conversate.
“I think it’s the most important time [to volunteer],” Cambiar said, “As the season goes on volunteers get tired… Either they’re sick, or they’re tired, or they’re planning their vacations, so we always tend to need fill in help from March to April.”
For students looking to volunteer but are unsure how to start, many organizations on campus are either required to or are dedicated to volunteering within the college or in the community.
Root said Greek Life, Habitat for Humanity and Circle K are a few of many on-campus organizations that do volunteer work, not just at the shelter, but at walks for awareness, road clean-ups and in many other ways. Carvalho said she believes that the best way of finding ways to volunteer is by joining extracurriculars here at the college first. “Getting involved on campus can get you involved off campus,” she said.
Angelique Inchiera can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org