Students “tech” the halls

As the fall semester came to a close and the holiday season began in Dec. 2010, students had the opportunity to “Tech” the halls with boughs of holly by participating in a community service event put on by the Community Relations Taskforce of SGA.

On Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010, 36 foster youths affiliated with the CHRIS Kids, Inc. visited Tech for a day of interaction with Tech students, fun and games. The day began with icebreakers with more than 50 Tech student volunteers at Tech Rec and an introductory welcome from the Institute President’s wife Val Peterson, while the rest of the day was devoted to bowling, pool and other recreational activities.

As all of the foster youths were between the ages of 14 and 18, they are quickly approaching the age to potentially attend college. For these youths, the purpose of the Tech the Halls event was to allow them to experience a college campus life, especially as a very low percentage of these high school students actually attend college.

The keynote speaker for the event was Sam Bracken, founder of the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, which he created following his successful completion of his Tech degree in 1986 after being an abused foster youth.

“[Bracken] challenged [the foster youths] to use the resources they do have, even if it’s not a lot,” said Francis LaRossa, the chair of the Community Relations Taskforce and a third-year MGT major. LaRossa planned the event with former co-chair Michael Toney, MGT ’10.

For the Tech students, the purpose was to possibly build relationships with the less fortunate. The idea was to help facilitate this with one-on-one interaction with foster youths, especially as “these children have suffered significant abuse, neglect and rejection. They have bruised and battered souls. Removed from their homes, some have lived in as many as 30 failed placements and most are wards of the state,” according to a description on the CHRIS Kids, Inc.

“I was amazed at the amount of encouragement the teens seemed to receive from the owners of the organization they were part of,” said Marnie Williams, a volunteer and a first-year BME major.

“Several [of the foster youths] had behavioral issues, which made it more challenging, but made Tech students want to have even more of a positive impact,” LaRossa said. “There’s only so much motivating you can do to get someone else to care, but at the very least, our taskforce aims to provide exposure through convenient and simple opportunities.”

Of the 50 to 60 Tech student volunteers, “a mixed bag” of affiliations appeared, ranging from members of SGA to members of the Greek community, but members of the taskforce “tried to reach out to people [they] knew with a philanthropic drive,” according to LaRossa.

“Students were able to show the foster kids some great parts of being at Tech, and we were all able to learn from the progress Bracken made from his unimaginable childhood to being a Tech graduate and now an author spreading his message around the world,” said Brooke McDaniel, SGA Vice President of Communications and a third-year MGT major, who volunteered.

In the planning process, Freshman Council, a freshman leadership organization, raised over 500 dollars, and other funding came from donations from faculty and staff, local companies and the Greek community. This money went toward the production of “swag bags” for the foster youths that included Tech hoodies, water bottles and posters.

Now that the taskforce, which was created this school year, has an idea of the kind of fundraising that is necessary for these types of events, it plans to conduct similar ones in the future.

For the spring semester, the taskforce plans to conduct a “cooperative park cleanup day” with other colleges around the Atlanta area, but the members are currently looking for student opinion on what community partnerships make sense and are feasible.

“[We are] charged with the purpose of establishing long-term, sustainable and easily accessible relationships with the community,” LaRossa said. “Tech does a phenomenal job of solving world and industrial problems, but we really think that potential and work ethic can be harnessed around Atlanta.”

LaRossa looks to have events focusing on different aspects of the community to allow students to find their passions in service.

“We don’t want to prioritize one need or demographic of the community more than another,” LaRossa said.

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