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United Way of the Piedmont eyes college student chapter

A Wofford College sophomore is hoping to help the United Way of the Piedmont harness one of Spartanburg’s greatest resources — college students.

Ryan Carter, 20, of Charlotte, N.C., is working with United Way officials exploring the possibility of a student chapter that would include members from the city’s seven colleges.

Drawing volunteers from Spartanburg’s cumulative student population of nearly 15,000 is a priority of the United Way, said CEO and president Chris Steed. But officials didn’t think a student chapter would catch on if it was started by non-students.

“Then Ryan showed up on our doorstep,” Steed said, “and we’ve started planning.”

Carter, a government major with minors in business and finance, is one of Wofford’s Bonner Scholars — a group of students who receive scholarships in return for community service.

As part of his service, Carter recently attended a United Way World Wide Student Leadership Retreat in Washington, D.C., where he spoke with leaders of other student service organizations.

Now, Carter is using that information to help the local United Way research a possible student chapter, which would be only the second of its kind in South Carolina.

“College students are very passionate people,” Carter said. “We want to make a difference. This could give us the ability to focus that passion in a way that benefits the community.”

Molly Moyer, the United Way’s senior director of volunteerism and advocacy, said the key was making a student chapter that was sustainable — one that wouldn’t disappear when leadership graduates. 

Moyer said an involved student chapter, able to combine resources across several campuses, would be an invaluable asset for local nonprofits.

“It’s really just about engaging college students in their community,” Steed said. “We need people to pick up trash and paint rooms at shelters and swing a hammer. But we also need mentors. I think college students bring something very unique to the table as volunteers.”

Steed said getting college students involved was also key to keeping those students in the community.

“We have a special community,” he said. “We just have to get them engaged.”

Carter, who is involved in student government at Wofford, said he’s excited about reaching out to other campuses and “popping the bubbles” that typically surround the campuses.

“We joke about the Wofford bubble or the Converse bubble or the Upstate bubble,” he said. “We won’t be able to ever fully pop the bubble unless we get out.”

It’s more than just service, the student chapter could be an opportunity to learn in a unique way, he added.

“It’s learning about yourself,” Carter said. “You can learn to appreciate things in life. We have weird hours. We don’t have so much income. But we have passion and creativity.”

By Drew Brooks
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 5:56 p.m.