URI senior’s experience shaped by community outreach efforts

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KINGSTON, R.I. – May 18, 2011 – If you were in a situation where you needed help, wouldn’t you want somebody to help you out?

It is a question University of Rhode Island senior Evan White has asked himself since he was a child. For White, the opportunity to lend a helping hand to someone less fortunate is something he has acted on with regularity.

Since transferring to URI from St. John’s University before his sophomore year, White has made community service a regular part of his life. When he arrived on campus, he was looking for student groups to join, and founded Students Actively Volunteering and Engaging in Service (URI SAVES) with another student.

Through SAVES, White has participated in alternative spring breaks to do community outreach every year. He was part of groups that travelled to Washington, D.C. his sophomore year and Richmond, Va. last year. For his senior year, White worked with two other SAVES members to coordinate the group’s trip to New Orleans to partner with the St. Bernard Project, Habitat for Humanity and the Green Project.

“That attitude of not being able to just stand by when you see somebody else who is in trouble has been with me since I was a child,” said White, a psychology major and leadership studies minor from Barrington.

In March, White was part of a URI contingent that included 21 students and two staff members that spent spring break in New Orleans. The group worked half the week with the St. Bernard’s Project, a non-profit organization that creates housing opportunities so Hurricane Katrina survivors can return to their communities. The other half working with Habitat for Humanity and the Green Project. Some of their work included sorting through rubbish to find building materials that could be refurbished and used for reconstruction efforts.

“With a big group like we had, you can take a bigger swat at what needs to be done,” White said. “It’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment when you see what the 23 of us was able to get done. I feel like one of the key reasons for going on alternative spring breaks is to help those students who go on the trips to take that commitment of service to the community a little bit further.”

That idea of helping others carried over to White’s academic experience at URI as well. He spent his senior year interning with Butler Hospital, working directly with patients with mental illnesses. When he settles into a career, White envisions himself in the mental health field, working in a clinical setting.

“Working with people with mental illnesses has been eye opening,” White said. “When you are having troubles, it is hard to seek help. It has been amazing to see how far people come from the time they are admitted to the hospital to the time they leave. It’s a collaborative effort that takes a great amount of strength from them along with help from the staff.”

Before starting his career, though, White will spend a year in service with AmeriCorps. In October, he will move to Sacramento and be part of a team of 10 people who will work throughout the Pacific Coast helping in a variety of ways, from volunteering as fire fighters to working in local schools as student mentors.

“I have been blessed enough to get a college education and to be able to do what I want with my life,” White said. “Why not help others, if I can?”

Pictured above

Whether it has been building homes with Habitat for Humanity or reading to children in schools, senior Evan White has made community outreach a significant part of his college experience.

Photos, courtesy of Sarah Miller, coordinator of URI’s Feinstein Center for Service Learning.