I’ve learned that every story begins with one small step. My name is Liz Burbatt and that one small step was doing service in high school. We were required to complete service hours every semester, but I spent the entire summer before my senior year doing non-required volunteer work at a summer camp with kids. I really enjoyed this work because it was not required.

I knew that service was something I wanted to do when I got to EIU, but I had no clue how to start. I had an advisor here my first year, Moe, who spent a semester growing out his beard for this one Christmas event so he could dress as Santa. The event was sponsored by a group I had never heard of called NRHH. One Friday afternoon, I got an email from him asking what I was doing the next day and if I would be able to paint his brown-beard white the next morning for his Santa costume. I said “Of course”! The next day I showed up in his office ready to paint. After working on his beard he said I could go with him to deliver presents to kids in the area. I was shocked, but agreed to go. The rest is history.

We spent the day with Rachel Fisher, who at the time I thought was so energetic and fun, and I knew that my service would continue from there. To see the looks on the kid’s faces as Santa walked up to their door was priceless. Thinking about it makes me tear up a little- even four years later! The kids came out screaming, excited, and had no clue what to do with themselves. The parents, and the kids, were all so thankful; and I knew I wanted to continue helping the community in any way possible.

I ended up applying for the group NRHH; which I later found out stood for the National Residence Hall Honorary. Our chapter at EIU asks how you display the four pillars of leadership, scholarship, recognition, and service. My main reason for joining, as I told them in the interview, was because of the service they do for the community- Winter Wonderland and Breast Cancer Awareness Week. I was inducted as a freshman, and ran for the open executive board spot, Historian. As Historian, I was able to plan all the service events for the semester, which included random meetings with this Rachel Fisher character. ☺

One day, I was on Facebook, and saw a post on the Student Community Service page about a position for “Young Athletes Coordinator”. I immediately sent an email to the office saying I was interested in applying and that I would like more information.

After an interview, I waited and waited for any information about the position. Then I got the email! It asked me to come into the office that week to pick up a binder and I was off. I remember reading the entire binder basically from front to back and almost every page, trying to understand what Young Athletes was about and what I would be doing.

I can honestly say I didn’t know the half of it. Going into the program, Rachel explained to me that they had averaged 3 children per semester, and that I should hope for about 5 children for my first semester. Boy, was it a huge surprise to have 17 children walk in on the first day. I did not even see it coming, and neither did any of the volunteers. We had to quickly adjust our small “obstacle course” of random jumps, hoops, and balance stations to cover as much of the floor as we could. We finished the first day and I could tell the volunteers were exhausted and overwhelmed; we stopped to appreciate a good day with the kids, and created a game plan for the next week. From that day on, every volunteer had a day to teach the lesson and it was great! Everyone knew what they were doing, kids were broken up into small groups to make things more manageable, and everyone had fun! I think that my first semester of Young Athletes really challenged me and allowed me to grow in new ways and learn more about service and about helping others.

When doing service everyone has that moment. It might be when you first get going, and you don’t know how things are going to go or even what’s going to happen next. For others, it might be at the end, the rewarding feeling of accomplishing something that’s bigger than you. For me, there’s a moment, right in the middle, where you can see people relax, take ownership of the project, and appreciate what they have been working on and how it will help someone else. I see it at Young Athletes every week. The awesome volunteers get so engaged in the week’s activity they don’t notice the time, or anyone besides who they are working with. At Winter Wonderland, I see the NRHH members are all doing their thing and the kids love every second of it: running around to see Santa, playing bingo, and doing crafts. It’s all those little moments where I can sit back and realize that I’m exactly where I need to be.

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Eastern Illinois University's Civic Engagement and Volunteerism office is dedicated to cultivating citizens of character and integrity. We do this by offering EIU students purposeful opportunities and resources to complement the academic experience. By participating in these programs and services, students are challenged to explore their leadership potential through student-centered programming, service and experiential opportunities. Our programs and activities support Eastern’s mission of enhancing the learning, educational growth, and development of students.

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