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This Intercession, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement will be providing opportunities for students who aren’t formally involved with any volunteering group on campus to meet local members of the community and serve in the Princeton area. The Intercession Engage and Serve Week will be held from Monday, Jan. 30 to Friday, Feb. 3, with a lunch and at least one dinner provided daily.

We interviewed the senior associate director at the Pace Center, Elsie Sheidler, about the program and how Princeton students could give back to the local community during this break.

The Daily Princetonian: Could you give me a brief overview of how the service week started?

Elsie Sheidler: The opportunity actually came about as a result of a student coming to us. As you may know, most of the work we do revolves around students driving their interests around service. We had similarly piloted a trip during the fall break as a student, Mason Cox ’20, had come to us and asked us if there were any opportunities to engage in service over fall break. He had missed deadlines for applying for various activities and was going to be here, because he was going to be home. So we thought — why not put together something for the week?

So we created some connections with the community partners that we currently have locally and asked if they have any need. And because students are away over fall break, they were thrilled to have some of these projects continued.

Honestly, we were thinking of doing it again in the spring. But a senior, Kishan Bhatt ’17, came by and told us that they were going to be around over that week of Intercession, Jan. 30 through Feb. 4. They asked if there was anything they could do to volunteer. The staff talked amongst ourselves and said, why don’t we try what we did in the fall?

So that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. Reaching out to our community partners to see what projects we currently have going on throughout the year that still might need to be sustained during that week.

One thing that we did include in the fall break that we’re going to continue to include is an opportunity for the students to come together and discuss not just why it’s important to themselves, but also what they’re discovering about the social issues, and what they’re learning from these communities that they’re working alongside.

It’s a great opportunity not only to serve, but also learn how to serve.

DP: Could you elaborate a little bit on which community organizations you will be partners with for this service week?

ES: We haven’t started the outreach yet, but I can tell you who we reached out to in the fall. We might reach out to them, and include others. We’re holding an info session this Thursday. I want to ask students what particular social issues they would be interested in. I’ve had students come back to me and already say “I’m really interested in healthcare issues and poverty and homelessness. So during the fall break we were able to identify the Mercer Street Food Bank — they had a need for students coming together helping them prepare food. We also had Habitat for Humanity — so students were actually out there learning how to build a house. We also had students working in our own Community House project, working with the youth in the local community, helping them with literacy enrichment.

But I really want to hold the info session and see what drives the students’ interests. We hope to satisfy both what the community needs and what the students will be interested in.

DP: Will the programs be local or travel to areas outside of Princeton?

ES: We’re going to keep it local for right now. We do know that transportation is an issue so we’re going to keep it local so students are certified. But if students are van certified and part of our enterprise car share they can take advantage of a car and go to Trenton.

DP: What is unique about this service opportunity?

ES: Every time a student comes to us with an interest in service, they make it unique. There’s something that excited that student enough to say “Look, I have some open time.” And we know how busy Princeton students are. If they can identify for us those times when they’re open, we’re more than happy to make the connections and develop the opportunity.

This is much more open and free form, but the feel of it is very much in keeping with the strategic plan that we just released — which is that service is inclusive. We want to make service accessible to everyone. I think that this just speaks to the fact that we are reaching our goal to make service inclusive and accessible to all students.

DP: Is there anything else you want to add?

ES: When we first came up with the idea of the fall break service week, we realized that we wanted to reach more students. The student that happened to come to us came from Butler, so I reached out to the Director of Studies there and the Director of Student Life and asked if they would be able to help reach out to the Butlerites, and they eagerly offered their support. We’re very appreciative that we have the residential colleges sharing the wider message of this week.

The Wintersession Engage and Serve Week information session will be held in the Pace Center Lounge in Frist Campus Center from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15. Contact Elsie Sheidler at sheidler@princeton.edu for more information.

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