Kathy Guthrie, director of the Office of Volunteer Programs, developed a passion for altruism through family activities and 4-H while growing up on a farm outside the Illinois hamlet of Ashkum (population 700). So it seemed only natural when Guthrie took the helm of OVP in September 2001 after working as a youth development educator with UI Extension. Guthrie holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from North Central College and a master’s degree in education from Illinois State University. In her spare time, Guthrie enjoys water sports, cycling and working out at a local gym.
What does the Office of Volunteer Programs do?
It’s a partnership with the United Way of Champaign County, which provides funding to us. I work closely with the director of its volunteer center. My main focus is connecting students with volunteer opportunities, but I work with anyone who would like to volunteer – faculty, staff, alumni. We do a lot of outreach. We have a listserve and post opportunities and send out an e-mail weekly giving information. We work with a lot of different academic majors.
How many volunteers are you working with?
Thousands. We’ll talk with 800 people just on Quad Day. Individuals will come in and we’ll also have organizations come in who want to set up opportunities for a hundred members.
Why is volunteering so important to you personally?
I feel that I’m a very fortunate person, and I like being able to help others like I’ve been helped. It makes me feel like I’m a better citizen. I think it’s one of the most important things I can do. I was in 4-H while growing up, and we did volunteering weekly, so it’s always been a big part of my life. I’ve been volunteering since I was 6 or 7. A lot of times our family wouldn’t have Thanksgiving dinner; we’d go help serve it to elderly or homeless people. When I was in high school, a tornado touched down in our town, destroying a home and a business, and I saw how everyone came together to help out.
Did your family values on volunteering affect your career path?
Probably. I knew I wanted to work in a college setting. When the opportunity for this job dealing with volunteering came up, it seemed like a perfect fit. I love to volunteer and do it all the time, and my passion could become my job.
What organizations have you volunteered with personally?
I do a lot with park districts. I think the outdoor education is incredible. I do a lot with nursing homes and with hunger and homelessness programs as well. I also do presentations on career development and how to use the skills kids learn in 4-H.
What is it like working with students doing community service?
I love seeing the "a-ha" moments students have working with people when they realize that there’s a social problem that exists and begin to think about how they can help. It’s extremely rewarding working with them and seeing them grow. It helps me grow as a person too from the lessons they learn.
I know some pre-med students who changed their career paths because of the power their volunteer experiences had on them and who decided to go into community health or to work with AIDS awareness. One student realized that she wanted to become a teacher after working with children.
You hear so many negative stereotypes about students, but I’ve seen the exact opposite. I had a young woman come in during the summer who was going to be a freshman and wanted to know what she could do during her four years here to make a difference in the community. That just blew me away.
Are there any service projects going on related to the Sept. 11 disaster?
Many service projects came out of it. This year we’re working with the Points of Light Foundation and coordinating projects to honor Sept. 11 victims. There were seven victims who were connected in some way with Illinois, and we’re doing seven big projects throughout the community.
For information about volunteer opportunities: www.union.uiuc.edu/ovp, 333-7424 or email@example.com. The Office of Volunteer Programs is in Room 284, Illini Union.