CSER contributes to community

Instead of jumping at the opportunity for an outrageous 12 hours of sweet slumber, some Liberty students rise early each Saturday morning to serve the city of Lynchburg.

“Liberty students and employees account for 586,262 and 88,617 hours respectively per year in local community service,” according to Mangum Economic Consulting.

Liberty offers diverse opportunities, such as CampusSERVE, to give students the chance to make a difference in the lives of community members.

In 1973, Liberty’s Christian/Community Service Department (CSER) was established through Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC). The purpose of the program is to provide ways for students to develop the ability and desire to serve those around them through various means such as civic, athletic, scholastic and religious organizations, according to the CSER Web site.                 Each fall semester, Liberty holds a CSER fair where churches and other organizations come to offer students the opportunity to serve with them. The goal is for students to get involved and find a place where they are interested in serving.

“The number one goal in this is for students who are members of churches to be actively involved and begin to serve as active members,” Director of Christian/Community Service Lew Weider said. The Office of Student Leadership (OSL) is one of the top community service choices by students, mainly because of the number of students necessary to meet the need. Another popular service area is through CampusSERVE.       In keeping with Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.’s vision to create a unique Christian university, CSER helps Liberty reach that goal. More than volunteer service, Liberty made CSER a part of the students’ graduation requirements.  Each student is required to fulfill a minimum of 20 hours of service per semester. Students have freedom to choose which avenue they would like to complete their hours.

“It is a wonderful process to see all the things our students do above and beyond and how they are affecting people in positive ways and making a difference in their lives,” Weider said.

The requirements were not just put into place as extra work for students, but to help them prepare for their futures and affect the lives of people in their community.

“We don’t see CSER as being thrust onto academic studies to help make it a Christian university,” Weider said. “We see it as an academic learning experience which will provide them knowledge and skills for their future ministries and careers.”

The University of Virginia (UVA) has a similar program for its students. Although these community service hours are not required, volunteer service is available through Madison House, a student-led, non-profit volunteer center.

More than 3,000 students volunteer through 19 different programs offered weekly. About half of the students attending UVA will volunteer in some way through Madison House during their academic experience there, according to Director of Communications for Madison House Ben Eppard.   Among the most popular programs are Medical Services, where students receive hands-on experience, and Animals and Environment opportunities. One difference between Madison House and Liberty’s CSER is that their students do not receive academic credit for their service hours.

“Thomas Jefferson’s concept of student self-governance is still upheld as an example at the university today. This means that students play a key role in their own academic development,” Eppard said. “At Madison House, student leaders recruit, train and motivate volunteers for their service programs.”          One of the most controversial aspects of Liberty’s CSER program is found in the hour requirements. Some students believe that service should be voluntary and not mandatory. However, student assessments have shown that an overwhelming majority appreciate these hour requirements and the credit they receive for their service.

“This is probably tied to their faith in that it is a natural part of the Christian lifestyle anyway,” Weider said.

Some students look forward to their CSER and jump at the opportunity to serve  Lynchburg residents.

”The whole idea of CSER is great and encouraging because as Christians, we should be able to show Christ’s love everywhere we are and not just inside our ‘Liberty bubble,’” freshman Christina Grauch said.

In order to encourage students to see CSER as a way to reach out to the community, a CSER award was created in 2001. The award is given to students exceeding the minimum requirements wjp gp above and beyond their required service, according to Weider.

The first CSER award was given to Lori Snider for her outstanding service at a Lynchburg community nursing home. Exceeding her hour requirements, Snider loved those she worked with regualarly.

“This was a case where [Snider’s] CSER not only made an impact on her and the people she served, but it affected her major,” Weider said. “She developed relationships at the Runk and Pratt nursing home.[Snider] understood her love for elderly people, and  she changed her major to gerontology (the study of aging).”

The purpose of CSER is to further equip students for their futures and provide the unique opportunity to touch lives. With Snider as an example, many students have pursued their CSER opportunities with the same heart.

“The 674,000 hours of community service that the Liberty community provides to the Lynchburg area annually is a clear indicator that our students are becoming the champions for Christ that my father hopes they would become,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell said.

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