Helping Make UT Dallas a Little More Like Home
Furniture Donation Program Makes a Difference for International Students
Aug. 26, 2010
A volunteer program is helping UT Dallas international students set up new homes away from home as they start the new school year.
Dubbed UTD Cares, the program helps get donated furniture, bedding, kitchenware, small hand-me-down household items and other necessities to students who otherwise might have to go without.
The initiative is an outgrowth of an informal effort started more than a decade ago by the UT Dallas chapter of the International Christian Fellowship (ICF), a student organization that was created to help international students. Soon, students from FOCUS and the Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) joined them in donation drives that they began calling “Garage Giveaways.”
The University funds a storage unit, and students provide the volunteer labor.
The UTD Cares group was created because the student groups wanted to get more people involved, said Cristen Casey, director of the International Student Services Office (ISSO).
“They came to us to try and get our campus more involved in donating furniture,” said Casey, who along with Residential Life gave the informal effort the University’s official sanction. “It’s about organizing more UT Dallas support for our international student community.”
The furniture drives are crucial because of the unique situation that international students find themselves in when they come to UT Dallas, said Casey.
“They often arrive under unique financial, physical and cultural restrictions, such as not owning a car or being unable to navigate the process of furnishing an apartment in a new country,” she said. “Prior to their arrival, the International Student Services Office notifies them that apartments are unfurnished. We direct them to the community and campus resources that can help them acquire necessities.”
Ryan Plauche is a senior software engineering student who got involved with UTD Cares in 2007. Plauche is one of the primary coordinators, along with BSM representative Beth Smith and ICF community volunteer Ray Cotton.
“The main things on my end are keeping the furniture garage clean and organized, doing the occasional furniture inventory and helping coordinate student volunteers,” Plauche said. “When the actual giveaway event rolls around once a semester, I gather volunteers from FOCUS, and typically help Beth and Ray to ensure things run smoothly.”
For Plauche, the process has gotten increasingly streamlined over the past few years. “We're always looking to serve more students along the way,” he said. “The unified front of UTD Cares has certainly helped, as has teaming up with the ISSO.”
This past spring they even had an opportunity to recruit from Viva Volunteer, a campus-wide event that partners with ICF, BSM, Focus, ISSO and Residential Life to support the Garage Giveaway by providing volunteers from among UT Dallas students, staff and faculty members to 22 organizations around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including UTD CARES.
“I've had the chance to keep up with a few of the students I helped when I first started back in 2007,” Plauche said. “They still introduce me as the guy who gave them some furniture. The main word that comes to mind when thinking about how students react is grateful. This is probably to be expected, though, when you’re giving someone a bed to sleep on or a table on which to eat. Many of the students also enjoy the chance to educate an American student on their culture, as we try to send our volunteers with open and inquisitive attitudes.”
The fall 2010 Garage Giveaway will be held Saturday, Aug. 28, in conjunction with Viva Volunteer. The event allows the groups to distribute the donated items in an organized fashion. The UT Dallas community can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to donate or volunteer.