As identified in its bylaws, a major objective of the University of Tennessee BSSW Student Social Work Organization (BSSW-SWO) is to “facilitate and provide volunteer community service to social welfare organizations in the Knoxville community.” Students who are majoring in social work meet every Tuesday during the academic year from 11:15 to 12:20 for meetings. This time is protected and built into every social work student’s schedule. To expedite the work of the organization, the students have organized into various committees. The largest committee is community service, with more than 25 active members. The co-chairpersons of this committee contact social service agencies throughout the Knoxville and East Tennessee region to offer the organization’s volunteer assistance.
In the past three years, approximately 20 social service agencies have been assisted by the BSSW-SWO. Some of the agencies assisted by the members include: Big Brother/Big Sisters, Blount County Children’s Home, Child and Family Tennessee, Florence Crittenton, Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries, and the Ronald McDonald House. Members have been involved in fund-raising, serving meals at homeless shelters, collecting canned goods for a food bank, organizing parties at nursing homes, and providing social activities for children at a runaway shelter and for young women at a residential maternity shelter. References to some of these efforts are found in the organization’s newsletters. In recognition of its work in the community, the BSSW-SWO received a Citation for Extraordinary Contribution to Campus Life at the University Convocation in April 2000.
An ongoing service being provided by the BSSW-SWO is to the Greater Knoxville Mental Health Association. For the past two years, members have been providing service in the Association’s COMPEER program. The COMPEER program matches caring, trained volunteers in supportive relationships with children and adults receiving services from mental health professionals. A number of students in the BSSW-SWO have gone through volunteer training at the Mental Health Association and have been matched with young clients receiving mental health care. The students meet with their “compeer friends” each week to provide friendship and support.
The students involved in COMPEER keep a journal in which they document their volunteer activity, reflect on their involvement in this community project, and connect what they are learning in their social work classes to their service. In addition to the weekly contact with their friends, the students meet with the faculty advisor of the BSSW-SWO once a month to discuss their volunteer activities and to comment on their journal entries. This informal, voluntary seminar connects service with learning.
The BSSW-SWO is meeting a community need for volunteers in social services. Also, the organization is serving client groups that are disconnected from the larger community, i.e., pregnant teenagers in a residential maternity shelter and homeless men, women, and children. The BSSW-SWO encourages its members to be citizens who “will not pass to the other side” when seeing people who are isolated and disconnected from the larger community.