To graduate from Wittenberg University, every student must complete at least 30 hours of community service. For Stephanie Rines, the community service work wasn't performed out of necessity – in fact, the university's commitment to teaching students through service is part of what drew her to Springfield in the first place.
"In high school I always dreamed of serving in the Peace Corps, and my four years at Wittenberg harvested my desire to help others and become involved in service and social action," said Rines, a 2004 graduate of Jay County High School in Portland, Ind.
During her junior year at Wittenberg, Rines participated in a Spring Break trip to Biloxi, Miss., where she helped with much-needed relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While there, she met individuals who had devoted their lives to serving others, and she knew she wanted to do the same.
During her collegiate career, Rines also attended a weeklong Faith In Love and Action Conference at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., where she focused on service, poverty and environmental stewardship. As a senior, she participated in a Faith in Action trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Wittenberg's Office of the University Pastor.
"Participation in these trips and other service events at Wittenberg continually opened my eyes to the many injustices in our world and empowered me to spend my life working to make a difference for those who need it most," said Rines, who majored in English.
She spent her first year out of college in Asheville, N.C., working with VISTA where she focused on grant writing, fundraising, event planning and marketing for Asheville GreenWorks, an environmental non-profit organization. AmeriCorps*VISTA is a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.
"I had little or no previous experience in most of these fields, but the amount of experience and knowledge I gained is priceless," Rines said.
Though Rines enjoyed the work in Asheville, she decided to move back to Ohio to be closer to friends and family. Fortunately, a VISTA position at Wittenberg opened up, allowing Rines to become a second-year VISTA volunteer through Ohio Campus Compact at her alma mater.
At Wittenberg, she coordinates service events and poverty awareness programs to engage students and to help them better understand themselves and community needs. Events include an alternative spring break trip, Super Service Saturdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and the New Student Service Plunge in early September.
She also works to engage the campus community in local initiatives that are working with families living in poverty to help them become more sustainable, such as Clark County Circles and Clark County Community Habitat for Humanity, through which she is working to build a community garden in the Grand Avenue South Neighborhood of Springfield.
"I haven't necessarily had a life changing moment during my service, but in a humble and gracious way, my first, and now second year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer challenges the way I see and understand the world, people I meet, places I live, and my own place in this world," Rines said.
- Written by Amber Reyes '12
- Photo by Erin Pence