Around 170 students gathered at the Education and Human Services building for the 12th Annual Issue Day on Saturday.
Sponsored by the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center and several other organizations, the goal of the conference was to help motivate students to find solutions to social issues either by advocacy or volunteering.
With a variety of sessions focused on different social issues, students were given the opportunity to choose whichever session met their interest and to be educated on how to make a difference.
“I think giving educational sessions, even though it seems like something very simple and very basic, it’s a very solid foundation,” said Illionois senior Taylor Galmarini, who works on the special events committee of the volunteer center. “Volunteers need to know why they’re serving and what they care about and from then they just develop the passion that grows into a lifelong process.”
Throughout the conference, students attended three sessions of their choice listening to several speakers. Some speakers return year after year because of such good feedback from students.
“We have had speakers volunteer to speak about something they’re extremely passionate about and because they’re so passionate, they come in and talk to students and the students learn about it and they care,” Galmarini said.
Greenville senior Chauntel Bennett attended the conference thinking it would help broaden her knowledge base so she could be a more active and informed citizen.
“I heard about Issue Day though alternative breaks,” Bennett said. “… I wanted to come out because I’m always looking for opportunities to better myself and learn how I can help my community and the world around me.”
Marquise Hicks attended the Hunger and Homelessness session because he is an advocate of veterans. He is the president of Student Veterans of America on campus and is looking to figure out some better ways to out reach for homeless veterans.
“The biggest thing I took away from it was just the resources that are available in this area,” the Flint senior said. “Now that I know more about those resources, I think I can do a little better on making sure that veterans know about them.”
Port Huron senior Heather Hillman attended a session by the organization, Girls on a Run, with a focus on helping young girls with confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. Hillman says empowering women is a topic she is passionate about and she’d love to get involved in the group.
“I want to be a teacher first of all,” Hillman said. “… So I learned a lot about how important it is at this age to build confidence in young adolescents. Especially girls at this age has such low self-esteem and they’re just bombarded with very unrealistic body image goals. So, I think this such a good way to empower young girls to love who they are.”
Galmarini said the mission of the conference goes beyond volunteering, but the connection people made during the day.
“The connection with other students, knowing there are other people that care and that want to be putting their words into action really fuels people to continue their own path of social change and that’s the biggest draw from this conference,” Galmarini said. “Years down the road people can look back and think back to when they were surrounded by other people who cared so deeply and they can use that as motivation.”
Besides just observing issues and talking about how people can fix them, Hicks agrees with the statement, “actions speak louder than words,” feeling students have to be the change they want to see.
“I think awareness is key,” Hicks said. “You’ve got to know about it before you can fix it. There’s a difference between knowing about it and doing nothing and knowing about it and being an advocate for change. So, while the acknowledgement of it is a big deal, we have to make sure we have people that are advocates for change that they care about it enough.”