Service from the start: Rowan's Freshman Connection puts first-year students to work on community service projects

Service from the start: Rowan's Freshman Connection puts first-year students to work on community service projects

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Eleven incoming Rowan University freshmen are getting a jump-start on their University careers--and doing some important community service in the process--through the 2010 Freshman Connection program.

Eleven incoming Rowan University freshmen are getting a jump-start on their University careers--and doing some important community service in the process--through the 2010 Freshman Connection program.

During the program, which runs August 24-27, students will come together to participate in community service projects that include working with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering at Bancroft's Mullica Hill campus, working the concession stands at a RiverSharks baseball game to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Camden, and volunteering at the Cape May Zoo.

The students will be led by a cadre of five Rowan upperclassmen, who have helped to organize the service projects, according to Andrew Perrone, assistant director of the University's Office of Service-Learning, Volunteerism and Community Engagement.

"It's a pretty full week with a nice diversity of service opportunities and agencies receiving support from our students," says Perrone. "Our upperclass student leaders will serve as site leaders throughout each project and as mentors, motivators and guides throughout the week.

"Each night will wrap up with a reflection on the day's activities and a discussion of how to continue service as the school year progresses."

For many of the freshmen, getting involved in Freshman Connection was a no-brainer. Service, many of them say, has been part of their lives for years.

Freshmen in the program are moving onto Rowan's campus a week earlier than their classmates. The program also works to get students involved--and mingling with others--right from the start, Perrone notes.

"I was interested in joining the group so that I could meet more students before school starts and so that I could help volunteer in and around the community. That's something I really enjoy doing," says Rebekah Calverley, an incoming accounting and finance major from Hunterdon County, who also is pursuing the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Concentration.

In high school, Calverley served meals to people in need, worked with special needs students and worked in youth religious programs.

"Seeing the joy others get from my volunteer activities makes me want to do more within the community and to join projects like Freshman Connection."

Involvement in service projects in high school helped Emily Scharen of Belford decide on a career path. Scharen will pursue a double major in psychology, specializing in child behavior, and law and justice studies. Ultimately, she's planning a career working in children's services or counseling.

"Being involved in so many service activities in high school really helped me decide on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," says Scharen, whose two older sisters also attended Rowan.

"With Freshman Connection, I like the fact that I'll be working side by side with peers who also enjoy giving back to the community. It's the best way to meet new people."

Denville's Matthew Wojcik, who will pursue a degree in civil engineering and a concentration in Honors, worked on food and toy drives and in soup kitchens through his involvement with the Boy Scouts.

"Those activities made me more aware of the needs of others," says Wojcik, who aspires to work in the amusement industry as an engineer. "I learned about Freshman Connection during orientation and thought the projects were really interesting."

As a student at Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Williamstown's Amanda Branda concentrated on her studies. Branda, who finished third in her class as she completed the Allied Health and Medical Science Program, wants to make sure that she gets more involved in campus activities at Rowan. Freshman Connection was a logical first step for the incoming biochemistry major, who aspires to attend Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

"In high school, I spent a lot of time focusing on just the academics," says Branda, who volunteers as an EMT with Monroe Township Ambulance and Rescue Association. "Rowan is a new start for me and I want to be as involved as possible and make some great friendships in the process."

Students in the program will share a special bond--and learn a lot about themselves in the process, says Wendy Lopez of North Bergen, a senior psychology and sociology major who is part of the Freshman Connection student leadership team.

"Service provides so many life lessons," says Lopez, who says she has done "a ton" of service projects at Rowan...from taking an Alternative Spring Break trip to work in an arts and medicine project in Florida to volunteering with seniors at Glassboro's Post House to working with kids and teens with disabilities.

"Service molds you as a person. It's educational. Working with others on a project is a very bonding experience because you work together with a group of people who share the same passion to help others. The freshmen are going to love this."

Students on the leadership team will lead the freshmen in the reflective activities after each service project. The reflections are important components of the service work, Lopez says.

"After you've done the work, it's important to look and see what you've done, how far you've come," says Lopez. "You need to take a step back and look at your progress. That's how you grow."

Here's a look at the students involved in Freshman Connection, along with their hometowns and majors:

Bergen County: Upperclass leader: Jennifer Dent, Oakland, elementary education/geography.

Burlington County: Freshmen: Gerald Andorko, Delran, history and secondary education; Sarah Dores, Maple Shade, mechanical engineering.

Camden County: Freshmen: Alison Powers, Cherry Hill, accounting; Danielle Watson, Cherry Hill, elementary education/foreign languages and literature. Upperclass leaders: Brooke Golden, Cherry Hill, sophomore, history/secondary education/Africana studies; Noah Weinstein, Haddonfield, junior, American Studies.

Gloucester County: Freshman: Amanda Branda, Williamstown, biochemistry.

Hudson County - Upperclass leader: Wendy Lopez, North Bergen, senior, psychology and sociology.

Hunterdon County - Freshman: Rebekah Calverley, Whitehouse Station, accounting finance.

Monmouth County - Freshmen: Emily Scharen, Belford, psychology; Shelby Walzerak, Ocean, elementary education/liberal studies.

Morris County - Freshman: Matthew Wojcik, Denville, civil engineering.

Ocean County - Freshman: Courtney VanLeuvan, Toms River, psychology; Upperclass leader: Alison Dombrowski, Toms River, sophomore, art/secondary education.

Somerset County - Freshman: Laurel Gehringer, Basking Ridge, exploratory studies.

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