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HAVOC at 20: Still serving, growing

HAVOC volunteers
Liz Kressler '10 and Hgoda Manongi '08 (left) replace carpeting at the Utica Food Bank, and Ryan Messier '08 puts together a toy at Jesus Christ Tabernacle of David in Utica. They were among the students that volunteered on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 2007.

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

Other Service Opportunities

In addition to HAVOC, service opportunities at Hamilton include:
  • Hamilton Serves!, which was instituted in August 2008 for first-year students during orientation and involves a day of assistance to area nonprofit agencies and organizations.
  • The Urban Service Experience (USE), a more intensive pre-orientation project during which incoming first-year ­students and student leaders spend several days living in Utica and assisting in community service projects.
  • Alternative Spring Break (ASB), an off-campus service opportunity during vacation in March. Begun in 1993, the first trip took more than 30 students to south Florida to help with the cleanup and rebuilding following Hurricane Andrew. Since then ASB has grown to include about 100 ­students annually and increasing numbers of trips during the College's spring break. This year a record nine trips were scheduled.
  • Project SHINE, a program in which ­students assist in tutoring older immigrants and refugees in English and help them prepare for the citizenship exam.
  • VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), in which students assist low-income families in the preparation of their tax forms.
  • The HOPE VI Project in Utica, in which students have documented the ­history of the Washington Courts project and the displaced residents and have created a documentary on the evolution of the neighborhood in the city's history.

(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.)