UH civic program celebrates 20 years of helping others
Volunteering can be a big part of student life both on and off campus as a medium to connect residents and commuters.
A major example of volunteerism on campus is the UH Metropolitan Volunteer Program. A fee-funded, student-organized way to serve around the Houston area, MVP celebrated 20 years of service Feb. 18 with a week full of volunteer opportunities and a banquet.
"MVP was founded in 1988 through the efforts of former UH student Lloyd Jacobson," said economics senior Haniya Mansoor, assistant director of MVP. "UH did not have a specific program focusing on volunteering so Mr. Jacobson worked relentlessly to establish one."
Biology senior Utsavi Shah, MVP’s president, explained it was harder than usual to get the program founded and it has come a long way in the 20 years it’s been functioning.
"Jacobson had to go to Dr. William Munson three different times to get the program funded. He petitioned for a total of two years," Shah said.
According to Shah, there was no office at MVP’s current location because retail space took prominence over the area at the time. Jacobson’s dream of increased volunteerism has inspired some members of MVP.†
"Listening to [Jacobson] talk about the program’s history and the struggles it went through was truly humbling," Mansoor said of Jacobson’s testimony at the MVP Banquet on Thursday.
Something that has not changed in MVP’s 20 years is the overall goal of the program.
"The goal is to foster outreach and volunteerism," Shah said. "Serving the community is one of the best things you can do in your life. It’s something everyone should be a part of."
Many of the events that MVP has helped with stand out in the minds of some of the members.
On Friday, MVP helped out at The Lighthouse of Houston, a nonprofit rehabilitation center for the blind and visually impaired. Thirty-five students volunteered at the event, making it a very memorable experience.
Environmental Coordinator for MVP, Physics sophomore Navya Kurre, personally helped out with the senior citizens among the rest of the students. Kurre said that she learned a lot about what the people have to go through and deal with in their everyday lives in her first trip to the Lighthouse.
"It helped me gain a different perspective on life," Kurre said.
†On arrival, a bit of groundwork had to be done to make good first impressions with the seniors.
"Interaction was very important," Kurre said.
Many of the Lighthouse’s clients are picked up and spend most of their day at the center, getting used to the routine interaction with others in their position. A change in pace from MVP helped to give the students a reward they would never forget.
The students with MVP not only helped the seniors work on various art projects, but also cleaned up around the Lighthouse.
"The clients were happy to even have someone to talk to," Kurre said.
†The client that Kurre personally worked with was completely blind, compared to others who were visually impaired.
The MVP members interacted so closely with the clients that they began to open up and share parts of their past with the students, including life experiences and previously-held jobs, Kurre said.
Kurre and her client, who was laid off from his factory work, bonded well in the the hours that MVP was there.
"I learned a lot from this experience," said Kurre. "I want to volunteer again because I was touched by these wonderful people."
Another event is the MVP Urban Spring Break Experience, which provides a chance to volunteer each day of the vacation.
"Each day of spring break, MVP collaborates with non-profit groups around Houston and takes a group of students to get involved in activities such as repairing the homes of the elderly, working in the kitchens of the Houston Food Bank or volunteering at The Children’s Museum," Mansoor said.†
The future of the program will provide more opportunities for students, as many coming events are already being prepared by MVP.
"We are currently working on, and very excited about, Volunteer Abroad, Unite for Sight and UNICEF’s Tap Project." Mansoor said. "I would highly recommend students to sign up for the MVP Newsletter and receive updates on these and various other programs."
Despite all of the attention that the program has received, Shah attributes the essential success of MVP to the dedicated students who are already involved in the organization.
"The biggest measure of success is when students see something they like and keep doing it.†MVP has been successful and will continue to be successful because of the quality of UH students," Shah added. "The testament of 997 students registered in the database and the other 300 members of the Facebook group show that quality."