ANTIOCH’S WORK PROJECT IS A CALL TO ACTION.
Terry Carter ’71 cares deeply about his alma mater. “I’ve always had a deep love for the College,” he said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Antioch. It was a great time—I think that the school did a lot for me.”
And, while Carter has had an enviable career working in the Foreign Service and for the municipal government of Washington, D.C., he doesn’t have the kind of spare cash that makes the substantial donations he dreams of giving possible.
When Carter attended Reunion in 2008, he found out there was another way he could give. He learned about the substantial volunteer program currently in place at Antioch College.
The Reunion Work Project stretches back to 1986. Under the leadership of E. Macdougall “Mac” Palmer ’61, Penny Storm ’65, and Robin Rice Lichtig ’64, alumni repaired dorm roofs, repainted the Miles “Budd” Goodman Amphitheater, and built the original Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center, among other projects.
When the College held its first Reunion following independence in October 2009, alumni volunteers walked through the campus, aghast at how the years of neglect had drained the facilities. If the College was to reopen to students in fall 2011, buildings would need to be rehabbed. Clearly, Antioch College needed more of the volunteer work done every Reunion, but a lot sooner and much more frequently.
Antioch College created a position to coordinate alumni volunteer projects year-round, and instituted a program of monthly work projects. The first volunteer project was reinforcing the roof rafters of South Hall, which, at that time, had not yet re-opened. This took place in December 2009. The next project was repainting and rehabbing Pennell House. However, the projects were still disorganized. So Jon Baker ‘72 led a team in January 2011 to turn the old Maples fire engine garage into a fully functioning workshop. That workshop gave volunteers a place to work, using it as a hub, for example, to restore the desks and countertops in McGregor Hall, Baker said.
Jim Spangler ’74 is proud of not only fixing up the campus for future generations, but also erasing years of neglect.
“We did an incredible job on McGregor,” he said. “People would come up to us and say, ‘This place looked like it had been neglected for 40 years.’”
Such projects sound good, Carter said. But with a years-neglected infrastructure, he wondered, what good will a week of volunteering do?
THE DIVIDENDS FROM THE WORK OF A WEEK
“We always want to put people to work,” Maya Nye ’99, alumni relations officer for volunteer management, said. “We need all the help we can get.”
Nye was just coming off of a successful Reunion work project, at which volunteers concentrated on retrofitting the basement and the second floor of the Olive Kettering Library with energy-efficient bulbs and ballasts. “It was pretty great. The volunteers had this goal that they were going to finish the whole first floor as well, but they ran out of supplies on the last day.”
Since September, volunteers have given more than 4,000 hours of work and have donated $90,000 in labor, Nye said.
Volunteers renovated one of the apartments in Case Commons (formerly the Units), Nye said. Volunteer workers opened up single rooms to create four larger, more comfortable rooms for extended stays at the College for parents or adjunct faculty.
The buildings have also been repainted, and new flooring and shelves have been installed. Volunteers installed new sinks and plumbing, and they also restored the laundry room at the back of the Coretta Scott King Center.
Perhaps the most important thing about giving volunteer time to the College is how seemingly little projects add up. Take, for example, the installation of new light bulbs and ballasts in the library. The ballasts have been upgraded to electronic, solid-state ballasts. The upgrade results in a $1,500 rebate from the electric company. Additionally, it now costs less to cool the library because the new ballasts don’t get as hot as the electromagnetic ballasts that were replaced.
The project, Baker said, will pay for itself in twelve to eighteen months.
“After that, it’s all gravy,” he said.
SKILLED AND UNSKILLED LABOR
Another worry Carter had was that he’s not a particularly skilled laborer. He’s never done carpentry work, hung drywall, or installed sinks. What help can he really be for monthly work projects?
A great deal of help, assured Baker.
For people with little hands-on background but with a willingness to learn, there is plenty of guided, experiential learning. Baker is a former mechanic and union representative who teaches home improvement skills as a crew leader for Habitat for Humanity.
For volunteers with little repair skills and a disinclination to learn any, there are projects as varied as painting, weeding, and administrative work. In January, for example, the story of the Horace Mann Fellowships made national news. The resulting spike in online traffic crashed the College’s website, and the Office of Admission and Financial Aid was inundated with calls and e-mails from prospective students and their families.
Ultimately, more than 3,100 students applied for admission. Volunteers helped College staff sort new applications and answer questions.
Regardless of the assignment, volunteers are most helpful when they arrive with a “willingness to help out,” Nye said.
Even the most unskilled volunteers might have unexpected uses. Spangler recalls that during the work project in McGregor Hall, the floor sanders were bouncing. “We had people sitting on them for added weight,” he said.
‘REACHING ACROSS THE GENERATIONS’
“We are in a very real and material way assisting the College in its rebirth,” Baker said.
But alumni volunteers are seeing personal benefits as well.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Spangler said. “One of the great things is you’re really reaching across the generations.”
While working on Pennell House, Spangler met Nate Love ’08, who was a student at Antioch College the year of the closure, then attended The Ohio State University.
“Instead of going to Florida or something for spring break, he came down to work on Pennell and brought some of his friends.”
It’s moments like that, Spangler said, that make him feel connected to Antiochians of all generations—Antiochians such as Carter, who is planning on traveling from D.C. to Yellow Springs in October for his first volunteer work project.