The Bowdell Center for Service and Volunteerism is discontinuing its annual Welcome Weekend Day of Service for first-year students. Instead, the center is opting for a longer and more cost-efficient program called Voluntober.

The Welcome Weekend is completely funded by donors and fundraising, but the Bowdell Center is no longer receiving enough funding through these means to pay for the backbone of its initiative: supply kits.

The Bodwell Center regularly sends out 1,500 kits out to national and international organizations to help people in need with school supplies, food and personal care items. The overall cost of this event is around $20,000, according to Lisa Morin, the Center’s coordinator.

There has been a steady increase of student volunteers every year. “Less funding and more students don’t match,” said Morin.

The Welcome Weekend Day of Service evolved from UMaine Cares, a student-led volunteer initiative launched on campus after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The event was organized annually until 2010, when it was rolled into the Welcome Weekend, according to Morin.  

Morin noted that UMaine Cares represented students’ desire to give back to the community.

This is the first year for Voluntober at the University of Maine. The program was developed in connection with national Make a Difference Day, which falls on Oct. 27. While Fall Welcome Weekend encouraged the preparation of supply kits, Voluntober will focus more on direct community service by protracting the period of volunteering from one day to a month.

Morin hopes to entice new student groups by allowing them the liberty to choose which projects they want to complete from a list of local organizations provided by the Bodwell Center. The Center hopes to serve 40-50 community organizations during Voluntober, but Morin is confident they will exceed that goal based on local need expressed through the Welcome Weekend in previous years.

While Morin recognizes that students don’t want to see the traditional component of the day of service go, she remarked that the response from students and community organizations has been mostly positive, and people are happy to have more flexibility in both choosing and carrying out service projects.

Sophie Palangas, a third-year communications and sciences disorders student at the University of Maine, participated in Welcome Weekend as a first-year student, then became a group leader as a second-year. Palangas said she was surprised to hear the program ended so fast but thinks Voluntober is a suitable replacement. Palangas intends to participate in Voluntober with club lacrosse and club ice hockey, and thinks Voluntober will encourage more sports clubs and student organizations to volunteer.

Hannah Welborn, a fourth-year UMaine nursing student, volunteered as a first-year student during the Welcome Weekend and was a team leader her second and third years.

Welborn said she is sad to see the program end and worries that first-year students this year will miss out on the camaraderie and bonding that go hand-in-hand with the experience.

However, she is not deterred by the new service model. The co-coordinator of Alternative Breaks and member of Operation HEARTS, both volunteer-based student groups on campus, said she intends to participate in Voluntober with at least one of her groups.

“Volunteering has given me a ton of experiences I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise,” Welborn said.

Morin said that the Bodwell Center’s goal is to inspire lifelong community volunteerism locally, nationally and internationally.  She encourages student groups and organizations to contact her with any interest they may have in participating in Voluntober.

For more information on the list of community organizations in need and how to volunteer with the Bowdell Center, you can visit: https://www.umaine.edu/volunteer/programs/voluntober.