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Reaching out to raise up

Oct 18, 2017
by Brian Thompson, ‘95 Photo by Zach Thomas, ‘00

It’s a Wednesday night at a sandy vacant lot in downtown St. Augustine and people are lining up along a wooden fence decorated with signs that read “Bring peace” and “Compassion for all.” On plastic tables under white tents, Flagler students pass out slices of pizza, pile mounds of spaghetti on plates and hand out cupcakes.

It is all part of a St. Augustine program called Dining with Dignity that brings together local organizations to help feed the homeless, and on the first two Wednesdays of each month a student club called Flagler College Volunteers prepares the food and hands it out. In return they get gracious smiles and a plethora of genuine “thank yous.”

The club is the brainchild of Flagler senior Paige Armstrong, a Sociology major who saw a shortage of volunteer opportunities at the college and decided to help launch an organization that would tackle a variety of volunteer, community-focused service projects throughout St. Augustine.

“I think service is one of the best ways to grow as a person, as a professional, as a student,” she said. “I think it’s important for other people to recognize that. It’s my passion, and I enjoy sharing my passion with other people.”

In addition to Dining with Dignity, the club partners with Boys and Girls Club, SAFE Animal Shelter and a host of others as they try to make a difference in the community.

Through Flagler’s Office of Student Services, they also started Reach Out Raise Up, a day of service each semester that sees Flagler students fan out to nearly a dozen local non-profits, helping with everything from landscaping and painting to even preparing meals for exotic animals at a wildlife rescue center.

At the Horse Haven Ranch, which does equine-assisted therapy for children with physical or mental disabilities, students this past spring broke up concrete so corrals could be widened. Horse Haven representatives told the students that their work meant volunteers could instead focus on the organization’s core mission of working with kids who needed therapy. 

Senior Alex Quinones directs the Reach Out Raise Up events and has become active in all of the club’s growing number of projects.

“The purpose of Day of Service is that volunteering isn’t just about going out for a couple of hours, folding papers and helping with busy-work,” he said. “That busy-work has more of a purpose than it looks like. It’s just awesome to see people once they realize it because they want to do it again.”

Armstrong, Quinones and other members continue to search out new opportunities to help others and get students involved in the process.

One presented itself last October when Hurricane Matthew swept across St. Augustine, flooding local houses, businesses and local non-profits and toppling trees across the city. The club quickly organized students who stayed in the area to assist in cleanups and yard debris clearing.

“We just saw opportunities and said if you want to help, meet us here,” Armstrong said.

She said the idea for the club began as a way to bridge a gap between the school and the community by providing meaningful service opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Armstrong’s own desire to serve others stems from her work in middle and high school helping non-profit organizations. She says her own economic struggles while growing up played a role in why she has taken such an active interest lending a hand to others. 

“The fact that I came out on top of it makes me want to help out people who are in that position (that I was in),” she said.

Their work is about more than just helping people, or building resumes for future careers. It is also about teaching fellow college students the importance and value of service — why it matters.

“We want to go out and volunteer, but the core of it is to teach people about these service learning activities and why they’re so important,” said Quinones, an Accounting major who now wants to merge that interest into a career working for a non-profit or foundation. 

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