Ana Vargas found friendship, fulfillment and a career trajectory through service-learning activities at Suffolk University, and now the 2012 graduate is among the alumni returning to campus to join students, faculty and staff for Service Day 2013.

“I plan to work a morning shift and reconnect with friends and mentors in the S.O.U.L.S. Center for Community Engagement,” says Vargas, who is pursuing a Master of Social Work at Washington University of St. Louis but will be in the Boston area for a conference.

Helping needy, hungry & homeless people

Suffolk University’s 16th annual Service Day will see volunteers from throughout campus pitch in at seven different organizations that help needy, hungry and homeless people in Greater Boston. Morning and afternoon shifts are available, and some volunteers sign on for both during the April 12 event, which will include a lunchtime gathering between shifts

Building community on and off campus

“We’re shooting for 200 participants, and we’re well on our way,” says senior Erin Bessette, who is organizing the event for the S.O.U.L.S. Center. While she has volunteered at Cradles to Crayons for the past three Service Days, Bessette will remain on campus this year to make sure the entire operation is running smoothly.

“We have a lot of students interested so far but want to engage as much of the Suffolk University community as possible, and there are still some spots left for those who want to serve that day,” says Bessette.

Many freshmen have registered to serve, and students who traveled together on Alternative Spring Break have signed up in groups.

Other friendship groups also plan to work together.

Employees encouraged to join effort

Public Affairs office coordinator Ashley Gordon got involved in Service Day when fellow employees from her SoFit wellness team decided to volunteer their time.

Gordon, who holds two degrees from Suffolk University, has been involved in volunteer activities since high school, both as a means of helping others and as a social activity.

“I always like to help out, and I like the idea of being part of the larger University community on Service Day,” says Gordon, who will spend the afternoon at Project Bread, where her group will help to prepare materials for the 40,000 people expected to take part in the May 5 Walk for Hunger, the organization’s annual fund-raiser.

Her colleagues are supportive of Gordon's plans to take an afternoon to serve others, and the University encourages employee participation.

Alumni engagement

This is the first year that alumni were specifically invited to take part in Service Day, an idea that grew out of Alumni Affairs Assistant Director Emma O’Leary’s participation last year and as an undergraduate. Most alumni participating this year are local, but there are plans to invite alumni living at a distance to “pay it forward” wherever they live.

Service experience spurs career goals

Vargas’s goal of working in international, rural, sustainable development grew directly out of her Suffolk University experiences. These included a service-learning journey to El Salvador, where she helped build homes in a remote village, and mentoring from Service Learning Director Carolina Garcia and Associate Director Tim Albers.

Her graduate studies have confirmed for her how valuable volunteers can be to an organization. Yet Vargas has long had a passion for service, which intensified after she took her first Alternative Spring Break trip after transferring to Suffolk University from a college in her home state of California.

“One of our leaders talked about giving back to Boston because it is our community,” said Vargas. “For those two years that I studied at Suffolk, Boston was my home.”

So Vargas joined friends from her 2011 Alternative Spring Break tri

p to Athens, Georgia, for Service Day a month later, working at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

She went on to become a community service scholar in the S.O.U.L.S. office during her senior year.

“I put a lot of work into Service Day; the whole S.O.U.L.S. office puts so much into it, and that’s another reason I wanted to come back,” she says.

“I’ve always had an idea of paying it forward because of all of the opportunities my parents gave me, and because of everyone who has helped me in my life,” says Vargas. “Working in the S.O.U.L.S. office gave me an opportunity to do it in a more constructive way. The work I did there had so much intrinsic value.”

Service Day 2013 destinations are focused on offering relief to people experiencing hunger, homelessness and other needs. They are:

  • Boston Health Care for the Homeless
  • Boston Living Center
  • Community Servings
  • Cradles to Crayons
  • Greater Boston Food Bank
  • Project Bread
  • Rosie’s Place

Vollunteers get instructions as they prepare to sort donations at the Greater Boston Food Bank.