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Service: a way of life for UMM graduate David Nelson '06

Posted by Judy Korn on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006

David Nelson ’06 ponders the phrase “giving back,” then thoughtfully resolves that the expression doesn’t describe his motivation for serving. “Giving back” implies that one could be paid in full, then all need to serve would be erased. That’s not what he has in mind. “Volunteering for me is a lifelong responsibility, a life style,” he says.

Nelson, a native of Rapid City, S.D., already has an impressive history of volunteerism and service. After high school, he served with an Americorp National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. He and fellow team members completed service projects throughout the Southeast region of the United States.

When Nelson arrived at UMM, he sought out opportunities to be a fully participatory member of the UMM community and the Morris community. One of his first experiences was visiting Alzheimer patients in the nursing home for the service-learning component of a creative writing class. Nelson, an English major, and fellow students composed short stories and poems based on their conversations with patients.

Nelson served as UMM's service learning intern organizing community service, community-based research and civic engagement activities that fulfill course requirements. A two-year student coordinator for Community Service and Volunteerism in the Office of Student Activities, Nelson led by example, encouraging students to become involved. His responsibilities included planning events, managing projects, organizing public relations and fundraising. Two of his most memorable projects were the tsunami relief drive in 2004 and the 2005 Hurricane Katrina Benefit, a campus, community, regional partnership, that he co-organized. Nelson notes, “Students receive an incredible amount of experience and first-hand knowledge by being engaged.”

During the 2003-04 academic year, Nelson completed a directed study in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he spearheaded a “Student Life Project.” The grassroots endeavor introduced the concept of curriculum-based volunteerism and service learning at St. Petersburg State University.

Volunteering beyond the campus helped him “find a place in a small community,” shares Nelson. For two years, he met with a gentleman through the Lutheran Social Services respite caregiver program. A cherished UMM project was organizing the Adopt a Grandparent program. “Applying energy and efforts in so many positive ways builds on itself,” says Nelson, “and it comes back to me. I feel like I’m part of this community.”

A 2006 President’s Volunteer and Service Award recipient, recognized by U.S. President George W. Bush, Nelson continues his life of service as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine in Damariscotta. Following his VISTA service, Nelson plans to attend the School for International Training in Vermont to pursue a master of arts in sustainable development. The program prepares students for careers with organizations dedicated to equitable sharing and sustaining of the world’s resources, and to be interculturally effective leaders, professionals and citizens.

Photo: David Nelson