CRYSTAL LAKE – Emily Smith’s job is to share her passion.
As coordinator for service learning and volunteerism at McHenry County College, she helps students find and learn from volunteer work. The position was created with MCC’s Promise scholarship program, which required students to volunteer each semester. It was a perfect fit for Smith, a 27-year-old from Lake in the Hills.
She applied for the MCC opening two years ago after spending the weekend organizing an affordable prom dress sale to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I went home, it was Sunday after the event, and I did not want to go back to my job on Monday,” she said.
The decision to switch careers has paid off. The Crystal Lake Jaycees gave her the Distinguished Service Award at the group’s 50th annual public service awards ceremony in October.
Smith recently sat down with Northwest Herald reporter Brett Rowland to talk about volunteer work.
Rowland: What was your reaction to winning the Distinguished Service Award?
Smith: I wasn’t expecting it. My boss and one of my coworkers nominated me, so that in itself was really great.
I was very surprised and very honored.
The entire night was people talking about their volunteer experiences and there are a lot of people in our community doing really cool stuff.
I didn’t expect it and wasn’t thinking I was deserving of an award after listening to what everyone else was doing.
Rowland: Before this job, how did you get involved with volunteer work in your personal life?
Smith: My parents volunteered a lot. We did it as a family growing up. When I moved back to the area after graduating from college I got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and NISRA [Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, an organization that helps people with disabilities]. Those have been the two groups that I have been most involved with.
My sister-in-law, Whitney Ruth, and I started My Sister’s Dress [a Big Brothers Big Sisters event that raises money by selling donated prom dresses for $20]. I had done that for two years working with different people at the college. I went home, it was the Sunday after the event, and I did not want to go back to my job on Monday. So I looked online and that’s when I saw the position here. I thought “that’s perfect, that’s everything I do in my free time and I could be helping more agencies vicariously through students.” The application was due the next day, so I stayed up and updated my résumé and turned it in the next day. It was perfect.
Rowland: Tell me more about your job at MCC. What exactly do you do?
Smith: The position was originally created to manage all of the student volunteer work with the Promise program. They also wanted someone for service learning. There is service learning happening on campus, but there is a big push to create more opportunities. Service learning is really just incorporating service work into the classroom curriculum and making it a relevant experience in the community while giving back. That is really where my job is now: Working with instructors and agencies in our community to find matches and make partnerships.
Rowland: Can you give me some examples of service learning?
Smith: One class with a service learning component is called “Talking Dirty: Human Sexuality and Ethics.” The students can volunteer at Turning Point [a domestic violence agency], P.E.A.C.E. 4 ALL [a group that helps people involved in domestic violence], Tri-County Pregnancy and Parenting Services, and others. They can either write a research paper or write a paper based on their volunteer experience.
Rowland: What is the best part of your job?
Smith: Working with the students is so fun and rewarding. A lot of the Promise students went into it not thinking much of it and in the end had a great experience. Some changed their majors, some got their family involved. It’s a great way to see how they understand civic responsibility and giving back in our community. I get all sorts of excited about that.
A lot of people think about internships before deciding on a career, but volunteering can have the same benefits. Through volunteering you can be exposed to so much.