In March 1988, when the nationwide Campus Outreach Opportunities League (COOL) came to College Hill to discuss student-led volunteering in the wider Hamilton community, Charlie Hartness '88 realized that an organization to foster, harness and develop student interest in community outreach was needed. With guidance and support from the Dean of Students Office, then led in an interim capacity by Rob Kolb P'99, '02, professor of music and director of choral activities, Hartness laid the groundwork for what has been known for 20 years as HAVOC — Hamilton Action Volunteer Outreach Coalition. During the 1988-89 school year, Hartness served as Hamilton's community service coordinator and worked with administrators and students to get HAVOC up and running.
"It began as a sort of grassroots effort, with students who just wanted to do the right thing by our surrounding community and give back to an area that has significant need," says Amy James, director of outreach and orientation and an advisor to HAVOC. "And I love the fact that it continues to be student-directed, with students generating the ideas … and constantly strategizing about not only what activities to do, but also about how to make Hamilton College known as a place where service to community is valued."
That is part of the reason why Brian Mizoguchi '11, the current director of HAVOC, first got involved with the organization, and it represents how he envisions the future for the group: "I would like to see the culture of service we are working to create become ingrained in Hamilton's character. It would be amazing if, when people discuss Hamilton, they mentioned not only our outstanding academics, open curriculum and emphasis on writing, but also recognized and appreciated our deep commitment to service."
To mark its 20 years of existence, HAVOC — which observed the anniversary with an April 4 reception on the Hill — has updated its name to Hamilton Association for Volunteering, Outreach and Charity. "It more accurately reflects what we do," says Phill Hoying '09, a senior advisor to HAVOC, who adds that the group is publicizing its role with the slogan "HAVOC helps."
The group has also recently aligned itself with a new campus office, COOP (Community Outreach & Opportunity Project), directed by James. Jeff McArn, Hamilton's chaplain and an advisor to HAVOC for more than a decade starting in the mid-1990s, says this new relationship streamlines HAVOC's work behind the scenes. "The desire was to remain a student organization, but to be connected to an administrative layer which could offer logistical support for the budget, event details, transportation issues and maintaining community connections," he says. The benefits of cooperation between HAVOC and COOP include leadership training for students; the creation of new projects in the community; continuity from one class to the next; and general advising and support, including financial assistance.
Amid the changes, HAVOC remains an organization that appeals to a broad and diverse range of students. "One of my favorite HAVOC moments, year after year, is watching the crowds of students coming down the stairs into the [Fillius Events Barn] to sign up for sites on Make a Difference Day and MLK Day," James says. "These are students from all areas of the campus — sports teams, clubs, fraternities, sororities and just individual students. They don't have to spend their Saturdays this way — they could just stay in bed — but they do. I have a lot of respect for them."
While Make a Difference Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are HAVOC's two largest annual events, sending hundreds of individuals, including students, administrators, faculty, staff and even entire Hamilton families into the community to do hands-on work, HAVOC reaches out in many other ways as well. "Between our 20 weekly projects, our service days when we send volunteers out into the community for service, and our brown bag lunches, we involve probably 400 people each year," Hoying says. (For more information on the organization and its projects, go to www.hamilton.edu/HAVOC.)
The brown bag lunches have particular appeal for those who might want to check out HAVOC in a casual way. Food is provided free to those who attend, while a speaker gives an hour-long talk about some aspect of the community or public service. Recent topics include the Utica Hope VI low-income housing project, Utica's ethnic and economic history, and leveling the playing field in education.
HAVOC officers see the group's growth in part as a matter of getting the news out. "Over the past year, we have seen an increase in volunteerism, and my greatest hope for HAVOC is that our numbers keep growing," says Assistant Director Caitlin Fitzsimons '11. "I want students to know HAVOC to be an accessible organization with myriad opportunities — there really is something for everyone." With a strategic plan now in the works that involves marketing the organization more consistently to prospective and incoming students, as well as updating HAVOC's constitution and organizational structure, that should continue.
And, they say, the organization and the College make for a natural fit. "HAVOC members are distinctly Hamiltonian," Mizoguchi says. "They have maturity and humility, concern for others, the spirit to take action, and the attitude that they are responsible for the advancement of their community." Adds Hoying: "Volunteering in college is such an opportunity for students to learn, to grow, to experience what the real world is like, to be able to see how they can make an impact on someone's life."
— By Nick Stagliano '11
(For more on Project SHINE, VITA and Hope VI as well as other service options based at the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, go to www.hamilton.edu/levitt.)