'It makes me happy': College students reflect on giving back to F-M through volunteering

Many of Fargo-Moorhead's college students find time to give back to their community in various ways. Here are a few of the young adults making a difference through their efforts.

Despite having less time and fewer resources, college students in the FM area find ways to give back to their community — with a little help from campus organizations. Getty Images / Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD — They say time is a precious thing — and they are correct, but when time is used wisely, it becomes one of the most important things a person can give.

In a July 2018 article from CNN, Thom Patterson reports that the majority of Americans who volunteer "tend to be married, white and female, with higher education levels." The article also states the largest age group of volunteers is between 35 and 44, while the smallest group were people between 20 and 24.

The average age of college students is roughly 18 to 25, and it makes sense that the smallest group of volunteers is likely young adults getting ready to embark on new careers. Busy class schedules, living meal-to-meal on ramen and scrounging for quarters to do a load of laundry can take a toll on students — and trying to balance school, social life and work can mean that time is quite limited.

However, around the Fargo-Moorhead area, many typical college students have made time to give — and no, we aren't talking about offering up some eye-rolling at the mention of another assigned research paper.

Paying it forward

Several campus organizations at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and North Dakota State University have made it their mission to help students get connected and give back to their community during a time in their lives when resources and time are not abundant.


MSUM's Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF) group is an organization that aims to give like-minded college students the opportunity to give back in different ways. By empowering student members to be lifelong leaders, STLF builds leadership through service, relationships and action.

Over the course of the school year, members donate their time through various volunteer activities leading up to their annual Pay it Forward tour during spring break.

"We usually try to do a volunteer project each month," says Sara Danielson, an elementary education major and member of STLF, before the holiday school break began. "We collected cans in October, and in September, we were part of the Reforest the Red, so we planted trees and shrubs around the Red River. We got to decorate Bethany (retirement living community) in November, and coming up we are going to be bell ringers for the Salvation Army."

(names), members of the MSUM chapter of STLF, ring bells at (grocery store name) Dec. 8, 2018, as part of their volunteer projects. Presley Gonnerman / Special to The Forum

In past years, the Pay it Forward tour gave students the chance to take a 10-day, cross-country road trip, stopping in roughly six different cities to do volunteer projects. However, because of funding and other issues, the national STLF organization dissolved in May. The MSUM students won't let that discourage them.

"We aren't actually going to do a tour this year because of funding," Danielson says. "So we are kind of rebranding ourselves this year to hopefully be able to our own tour next year."

Organizing efforts

While MSUM's STLF generally organizes group volunteer activities, one of NDSU's volunteer organizations, The Volunteer Network, does things a little differently. The network helps students, faculty and staff find service opportunities at the school itself, as well as in the Fargo-Moorhead area. While the staff is made up of students, they work closely with nonprofit agencies to find and organize service opportunities not only for groups, but for individuals, too.


As part of the Volunteer Network at NDSU, students get help finding opportunities to give back to their community. Nicole Askew / Special to The Forum

NDSU student Rachel Prazek says the network helps connect students to many different activities.

"We've done a food drive and a giving tree here at NDSU," Prazek says. "But we also send students into the community to help nonprofits. We've had students do physical work, like helping out in a barn at Bonanzaville moving things, but we also have students help out nonprofits by doing office work. It's really a wide range of activities."

STLF and The Volunteer Network are just two of the many groups in the colleges and universities in the area. While some of these organizations work closely with nonprofits in the community and at their respective schools, some also work to strengthen the bond of volunteers to a certain academic major or career field.

MSUM NSSLHA and Collegiate SERTOMA student Jaxine Carlson handles money at the Lights at Lindenwood Park — one of the many volunteer opportunities available to NSSHLA members. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum

At MSUM, the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association, along with the collegiate Sertoma organization, a college-level branch of the local Sertoma Club, is a more focused group specialized for students in speech language and hearing sciences majors. Working with people who have disabilities helps them prepare for future careers while also allowing them to give back even before they graduate.


Groups like Cobbers in Action at Moorhead's Concordia College aim to demonstrate kindness wherever they go. With events like the "Coffee Buyout" at Babb's Coffee House in downtown Fargo, patrons at the coffee shop were able to get a free cup of coffee — and many patrons decided instead to donate their unused money to a local charity.

Behind it all

But what inspires all this generosity? For most of these volunteers, simply giving back to a community that has helped them makes it all worthwhile.

Presley Gonnerman, a member of MSUM's STLF group, agrees.

"I do it because I have been given so much in my life," she says. "People have helped me out so much and I just like to do it for other people. Whether I know them or I don't know them, it's just fun to be able to give your time and not always make everything about the money. You just always find time to do it, not matter what."

Giving back isn't the only motivation, though.

"It's definitely a family," says Karlie Mayer, president of MSUM's National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association . "I really enjoy getting to know all the girls and getting to know the freshmen that come in and volunteering with everyone. It gives me a sense of, well, it makes me happy."

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