Ryan Carter, Class of 2016, always has been interested in service.
– Ryan Carter, a Wofford College sophomore, wants to be someone who “works with the community, not for the community.”
As most Wofford students spent the first weekend resting after classes started, Carter, a Bonner Scholar, boarded a plane for Washington, D.C., to attend the Student United Way Leadership Retreat, where he had the opportunity to attend a White House briefing on education and listen to the CEO of the national United Way program speak.
Carter, a government major with minors in business and finance from Charlotte, N.C., is in the midst of planning a Student United Way program for Wofford’s campus that also will include surrounding college campuses in Spartanburg.
The United Way of the Piedmont in Spartanburg was in the process of developing strategic plans to try to engage college students in service for the community before Carter initiated his project; however, the organization soon realized that their strategy was wrong. President and CEO Chris Steed explains that the initial aim was focused on reaching out to professors and faculty of higher education institutions, in hopes that they would encourage students on campus to serve. Steed admits that the effort was concentrated on the wrong group of people. “For a movement aimed at mobilizing college students to be successful, it can’t come from faculty or staff or administration, or the United Way. It has to start with the student body, and Ryan has the vision and the passion,” Steed says.
Carter’s interest in a local Student United Way began when he started planning for his Bonner Scholar project this year. Bonner Scholarship students receive financial assistance along with resources to serve; each student volunteers at least 10 hours a week during the academic year and 280 hours over at least two summers. Carter volunteered with non-profit organizations in high school, and wanted to continue on this path and find a way to contribute to his new community of Spartanburg. After meeting with Steed, and much planning, Carter’s vision is becoming a reality.
He explains his vision by first distinguishing the difference between United Way as an organization and Student United Way as a subset. The United Way program, as a whole, aims to be a community partner that works on local levels to address issues of education, income and health in the community. The Student United Way is more narrowly focused on campuses and aims to facilitate ways for students to serve.
Spartanburg alone has more than 160 non-profit organizations. The amount is impressive, but can be overwhelming for those wanting to be involved, especially for students who are not from the area.
“When looking at the entire population of Spartanburg, about half of these individuals are college students,” Carter explains.
The reality of so many students in one geographic location intrigued Carter, and it is the goal of his Bonner project to effectively reach out and engage students, providing them with the necessary tools to give, advocate and volunteer on campuses and in the community.
“The United Way of Piedmont seeks to bridge the gap between knowledge and resources for local non-profits to pursue service goals,” Carter says. “A Student United Way in the Spartanburg area would be a similar resource that organizations on-campus could use to connect in the community, between campuses, and even on our own campus.”
The Washington leadership retreat allowed Carter to see the potential for a future Student United Way in the community. He was able to meet and talk with other student leaders involved in the program from across the country. The chance to travel to the nation’s capital allowed him to not only gain further knowledge about the program, but also to hear from government officials and learn about national policies and plans in effect for education.
The next step for Carter is to continue planning. “We are still in the theoretical stage,” he says. “We don’t want to get too excited and start the program, and then look back and wish we would have planned more effectively.” It is his hope that Wofford will start seeing signs of Student United Way activity on campus in the spring, and ideally be in full force next fall. “This program aims to help service clubs, sororities and fraternities, religious groups, and other on-campus philanthropic organizations harness the energy and resources they need in order to be the best they can be.”
Steed has big plans for the program. “Five years from now, I want all 15,000 college students in our shared community engaged in meaningful service. I believe that begins with Ryan, Wofford and United Way.”
Written by Dana Nobles, Class of 2015