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20,000 hours of community service.
This is what the Ambassadors of Change program accomplished in its first 20 years. The pre-welcome week program, commonly called AOC, focuses on community service and leadership development.
“AOC is unique because it’s a combination of a week of service, which can be very impactful, mixed with your introduction to college life,” AOC staff leader Genevieve Sullivan said. “You get this really great experience of people coming together to learn more about their community with the same enthusiasm and trepidation and love that you get from meeting your first friends in college.”
About 60 first-year students came to campus a week early to volunteer daily in the Indianapolis area, all while learning about themselves and having fun.
This is Sullivan’s third year with the program. She said she loves the history and traditions it has.
“It’s incredible to work with something so longstanding that is still so well-received and well-loved,” she said. “Every year we get better and better with connecting service and transition to college. Also, that’s 20 years of students participating and community service to add up.”
Brittyn Oliver, a first-year who participated as an ambassador this year, said her journey to AOC started when she registered for classes. She talked to a professor who only had positive things to say about the program.
“I kept it in the back of my mind and applied when the time came,” she said.
Students must apply for the opportunity, and it can be very competitive. Returning early costs $260 for dorm fees and other costs like food and activities.
Oliver said she was very excited for the program when she learned she got in.
“I had only heard great things about the program,” she said. “I really wanted to move in early, and I knew I would be doing something great service-wise.”
Students move in on Monday, a week and a half before classes start, and they start programming right away.
“You walk into a room and there’s a hundred people there with the team builders jumping around and dancing,” Oliver said. “We were thinking, ‘what did we get ourselves into?’
“That kind of environment allows you to make friends right off the bat. It makes people happy. It is such a good thing to do.”
After that, each day has a social justice theme. One day the students learned about food insecurity, heard from the CEO of Second Helpings and volunteered at Gleaners, a local food bank.
After each service event, the students reflect.
“It makes you listen to other people’s perspectives and opens your mind to more aspects of what you were doing,” Oliver said.
From personality assessments to learning to five elements of service, students learn a lot about themselves and service.
“We live our day-to-day lives and don’t really think about the issues,” she said. “We’re around it, but we don’t stop and think. This program stopped and shed a light on them.”
Each evening, the group goes on a different outing, from roller skating with clients with disabilities from Damar to bowling in some funky costumes.
One night, the group was supposed to have a bonfire, but they got rained out.
“We did lip sync battles instead, which was by far was the best night time activity,” Oliver said. “We had about an hour to learn the lyrics and make choreography. My group got Bootylicious, so you can just imagine that.”
Overall, AOC serves others and forges new friendships, which is what it let students like Oliver do.
“It makes you think differently, and doing these amazing things with people who have the same passions as me was great,” she said. “It was probably the best experience of my life, and I’m really sad it’s over.”