Students give back at annual volunteer event
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 09:10
Waking up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday might not seem like a good idea, but the approximately 1,200 members of the UCF community who decided to volunteer for the sixth annual Knights Give Back think the opposite.
Registration started at 7:30 a.m. in the UCF Arena. Inside, attendees signed up for a volunteer site and sat on the stands to talk, eat on-the-go breakfast and dance on their seats to the upbeat music played by a DJ.
Ryan Silverstein, student director of Volunteer UCF, welcomed the attendants and thanked them for taking time off their Saturday to help those in need.
“This year’s theme is Passion in Action and that’s exactly what we are here to do today — put our passion for making a difference into action by helping the Central Florida community,” she said.
Silverstein then introduced Provost Tony Waldrop, who greeted the attendees and announced that there were some volunteer dancers who wanted to energize the audience. A group of 10 students stepped up to the floor and started dancing. The small group quickly grew and hundreds of students danced to “Crank That” and “Gangnam Style.”
“That was fun,” said Jose Villegas, a senior majoring in criminal justice. “It was a good way of waking us up.”
Students then boarded the buses that took them to one of the 19 volunteer sites offered this year.
“The sites are very different, so volunteers have the opportunity to help people of all blocks of life, whether they’re elderly, whether they’re kids, whether they’re sick, whether they’re healthy,” Silverstein said. “So many opportunities to give back to a huge community.”
Some locations had been part of Knights Give Back in previous years, but for others, such as the Apopka Family Learning Center, this was its first year of involvement with the program. Forty students chose this volunteer site.
“We are doing something really special here. We are intervening with kids that otherwise would be dropouts because their parents can’t support them academically. They themselves probably didn’t complete school, or English is not their first language,” said Ellen O’Connor, CEO of the Apopka Family Learning Center.
At the site, UCF volunteers worked along students and their families laying new mulch, building soccer goals, organizing supplies and potting flowers.
“I am pledging for the professional fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, so I am fulfilling volunteer requirements and it is also a great opportunity to get out there and help out,” said Kelsea Farrell, a finance major.
Knights Give Back has become a tradition at UCF. It started in 2007 and has become the university’s largest official day of service, on which students, faculty, staff and alumni have the opportunity to give back to the Central Florida community.
O’Connor said 35 percent of Apopka’s residents live below the poverty level, which is double the state’s average. The mission of Apopka Family Learning Center is to stop the cycle of generational poverty through education
Mariana Ordaz is a UCF alumna and current member of the board of the Apopka Family Learning Center. She volunteered during Knights Give Back twice before graduating in 2010.
She said that the primary languages of the children who are part of the after-school program are Spanish and Creole, so the organization offers academic support for them and their families.
“The kids need to see beyond what they see right now because of the environments they live in,” Ordaz said.
The center offers after-school programs for children and literacy, English as a second language, financial management and parenting skills programs for parents.
Gabby Sotomayor is a senior nursing major. She decided to volunteer after one of her friends told her about Knights Give Back. They both spent the morning potting flowers with children from the center.
“I just wanted to volunteer. I love kids. I need interaction with kids because I want to be a pediatric nurse,” Sotomayor said as she stood on first base of a kickball field during a game between volunteers and children from the center.
At their return from the different volunteer sites, all volunteers reunited in the UCF Arena to eat lunch and share experiences.
“I really just think it’s about taking a day to think about others and come together as UCF Knights, as a unit in spirit just like we do in everything else and take all that energy to give back to the people who need it most,” Silverstein said.