Center for Online Learning's year-round community outreach and generosity are inspiring – and reflect the university's core values.

At the end of the summer, student support staff in Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning (COL) bought thousands of pencils and hundreds of backpacks, notebooks and supplies for inner-city children starting the new school year.

At Thanksgiving, they placed countless cans of food and boxes of cereal in collection barrels for needy families.

At Christmas, they collected everything from toys to blankets to make the season a bit merrier for those experiencing hard times.

And throughout the year, they contributed hundreds of dollars to multiple causes and charitable organizations.

Kind gestures to "lift spirits"

Members of Saint Leo's Student Support Center understand that every phone call or e-mail exchange with a prospective or current student is an opportunity to help transform lives. They also know the impact a few dollars or a couple hours of their time can have on the lives of people in their community.

"We feel it's extremely important to give back to our community not only as part of our core values but as individuals, as well," says Director of Undergraduate Admissions Tonya Chestnut.

"We all recognize those who fall on hard times and understand that a kind gesture no matter the amount can lift the spirits of those seeking help."

Giving from the heart

Nick Macchio, associate director for undergraduate student advising, has helped organize many of the support center's drives and community service projects. A Saint Leo alumnus, he says that the emphasis on community service that he experienced as a student has stayed with him.

"Community service certainly reflects the university's core values, but we really just have a blast doing it."

Some of the projects the Student Support Center has completed include:

  • Christmas Gifts: Employees collected gifts, food and other necessities for seven families adopted for Christmas through Catholic Charities' Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center. Last year, staff collected four barrels of toys to support Metropolitan Ministries, a non-profit organization that serves the needs of poor and homeless families.

  • Food: Employees raised more than $700 and collected 10 barrels of non-perishable food items, doubling what was collected the previous year to support Metropolitan Ministries.

  • School Supplies: Staff raised more than $800 and collected three barrels of schools supplies, including 3,000 pencils, 100 backpacks, and many more school supplies in support of inner-city children and youth.

  • Military Care Packages: Employees donated more than $500 to purchase items for care packages for deployed U.S. military members through Operation USO Care Package.

  • Personal Care Baskets: Employees collected gifts cards, candy, toiletries and other necessities to fill 13 Easter baskets for single-parent families sponsored by Catholic Charities.

  • Breast Cancer Programs: Employees raised $780 participating in the National Denim Day to benefit the American Cancer Society.

"Our team puts their heart and soul into these charitable projects and gives from the heart with love and respect," says Chestnut. "Plus, we love a challenge and being competitive. So the idea of giving back rallies all of us together to exceed the previous year's goal."

Volunteering time

For Student Support Center employees, community service means volunteering time, whenever possible, in addition to material contributions and financial donations.

Earlier in the year, for example, a team helped out during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which were held at the Tampa Convention just blocks away from student support offices.

And when the call went out from University Campus for volunteers for the Veterans Day community service project, Feeding Children Everywhere, 40 staff members donned hairnets and spent the afternoon filling plastic bags with lentils and rice.

"I chose to volunteer for Feeding Children Everywhere because I want to get more involved in helping others," says Megan Parness, re-entry specialist. "This project really made me see how Saint Leo is living up to its core values."

"I have always been one to volunteer when and where I can," says Linda Green, enrollment counselor, adding that the team work and excitement of the event was contagious.

"At the end of the day when the young man told us about the children who would be receiving these meals, I was humbled to have been a part of the community that cared enough to come together for an afternoon and work towards trying to alleviate world hunger," says VA School Certifying Official Marlene Tillman.

University core values in action

Enrollment Counselor Kimberly McGiffen, who also participated in Feeding Children Everywhere, says that the reason she started working for Saint Leo a few years ago is because she believes the university always looks out for the best interests of students and the community. It's a reflection of the school's commitment to its six core values – community, respect, integrity, responsible stewardship, excellence, and personal development – values she tries to live by every day when working with students.

Chestnut says that in addition to putting the university's core values into action, service to the greater community builds community within the Student Support Center.

"The Student Support Center is a family. We laugh, cry and overcome obstacles together. Doing community charity events allows us to grow together and as individuals. And when a group of individuals comes together to assist others, it is truly amazing what can be accomplished."