A (very) selective review of the Public Service Fair

Community Connections

| Staff Columnist

Desiring to find out more about getting involved in St. Louis but feeling quite lazy, I decided to check out the Public Service Fair held in the Danforth University Center on Sept. 23. At 3:30 p.m., the Fair appeared to be fairly successful (get it?). The primary benefit to holding the event in the DUC was clear: increased foot traffic. Thus, even if few people attended the Fair on purpose, passersby were constant, and the Gephardt Institute could save face with the vendors. Had the Fair been held in another on-campus location, such as the Women’s Building, there would have been fewer attendees. Of course, without asking every individual student whether they were walking through to get food, go to the South 40, use the Fun Room or actually attend the Fair, there was no way for me to verify my hypothesis. So, I decided to do what I actually went for: the opportunity to learn more about St. Louis.

The first thing that struck me about the Fair was the number of tables featuring mentoring programs. I believe there were approximately 5 or 6 tables of mentoring programs, all based out of St. Louis City. How does one go about deciding which program to select if they all offer the same thing? I was already aware of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. There were several others.

One of the “others,” Mentor St. Louis, stipulated that participants needed to spend only an hour per month with a student from one of a number of pre-selected schools. I was reminded that although at least one hour per month was required, more were recommended. Indeed, Ryonnel Jackson, the program director, informed me that mentors often contacted their mentees throughout the month to catch up. Still, I came away feeling a little discouraged by the program.

I imagined the college student who might meet that one time with an eager youngster from inner-city St. Louis. What kind of difference could that possibly make? Even if we were to judge being a mentor on the merits of trying to do ‘good,’ rather than actually achieving something good, surely an hour per month would fall short of that standard? Is it wrong that as I write this, I conjure up images of ‘that guy,’ who will write down on his resumé his pride in being a mentor, when in reality he acts as one for only an hour out of every 720 hours? My showers last almost half that long (of course, that brings up another issue entirely).

Still, I ask that you do not equate my skepticism with frustration. I believe mentoring programs work. They are more effective the more time mentors and mentees spend around one another, yes, but as the saying goes, every little bit helps. I strongly encourage all Wash. U. students to get involved in mentoring. When public schools aren’t doing their job, and you aren’t qualified to be a teacher, mentoring is the next best thing; it might even be a better thing!

Mentoring was just one of the opportunities available at the Public Service Fair. There were many other ways to get involved, through human rights groups, legal advocacy groups and several medical organizations. I know next to nothing about nutrition, health, exercise or even general well-being. Just ask my girlfriend. So, I decided to reach beyond my comfort zone of legal aid and youth-interest groups to explore Saint Louis Effort for AIDS.

St. Louis EFA was organized to provide education and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the region and to provide support for those with the disease. Their office on 1027 South Vandeventer also provides free confidential STD and HIV testing. Their booklet offers some frankly shocking statistics, which hopefully will prompt Wash. U. students to involve themselves with more health-outreach initiatives.

St. Louis is ranked fifth nationally for both HIV and syphilis and first for both gonorrhea and chlamydia. Those are not good statistics. If you’ve seen the commercials about partners not knowing about AIDS, then you know that these statistics can be changed. Education stops the spread of HIV/AIDS, and this organization does just that. Wash. U. students can get involved with STL-EFA in two main ways outside of the direct mission statement. First, they can help with fundraising efforts. Second, they can volunteer with one of their subdivisions, PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support), which helps those infected with HIV/AIDS, who have to deal with so much already, to keep their pets.

To find out more about these offerings, as well as others, including the ones mentioned in this column, contact the Gephardt Institute or the Community Service Office. To reach the Mentor St. Louis program specifically, e-mail [email protected]. To reach STL-EFA, contact Kim Rosenstein, the Volunteer Coordinator, at (314) 333-6660.

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