Hanover, New Hampshire is a completely different world than the one from which I came. Having previously lived in one of the poorest states in the country—in a city riddled with crime, Hanover and the surrounding area initially appeared to me to be a glittering world of prosperity. It wasn’t until well into my first year at Dartmouth that I began to notice a disparity between Hanover and nearby towns.
While the face of need in my hometown is highly visible, here it has a different appearance. At home, there are panhandlers on multiple street corners. A walk around Hanover or Norwich includes no such sights. It’s taken me awhile to realize that the need is less visible, but still present here in the Upper Valley. Extending a helping hand to the needs of others requires astute vision. The Graduate Student Council Service Chair Sally Demirdjian has such vision.
“I believe that we should all do our part to make our community a very supportive place to be,” Sally said in a recent interview. “I have been involved in service activities at Dartmouth since I arrived and it has taught me to be humble and has fueled my desire to do more for the people who are going through a harder time.”
Sally and the Graduate Community Service Team she leads regularly participate in activities in the Upper Valley, partnering with various local organizations working to serve the community. Sally recognizes the different needs and identifies ways in which graduate students can help. “Many people really appreciate and need our time. I encourage my fellow graduate students to help out in any way they can. There are so many opportunities to help another person and make a real difference,” she says.
One organization the team works with is the Upper Valley Haven, a local non-profit serving the needs of those struggling with poverty which provides temporary shelter to those experiencing homelessness. The team coordinates regular dinners at the Haven, working in a small group to make and serve dinner for the residents. Kristen Coats, the Upper Valley Haven’s Community Relations Development Coordinator, says “The Graduate Service Team stands out in their faithful attendance, eager service, and great diversity of participants and creative recipes. We are so grateful to have the Graduate Service Team as a part of our Haven culture and family.”
As well as coordinating community dinners at the Haven, the team have made cards for patients at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), participated in builds through Habitat for Humanity, and assisted LISTEN Community Services at the thrift stores, among others. Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Saturley from LISTEN said that volunteers are often asked to do “the most menial tasks” but notes they always participate cheerfully. “They eagerly help us with hanging clothing, cleaning facilities, pricing items, and general thrift store tasks that might not be the most glamorous volunteer job. We are very grateful for their work and willingness to help serve our community!”
Perhaps one of the most entertaining projects is their partnership with Hanover Terrace where the team visits and hosts bingo nights for the residents. “I really enjoy when they come to visit,” said Hanover Terrace resident Virginia Cook. Carolina Gordon, another resident, agrees: “They are so funny and it’s great to have them help with our puzzles and work with us on amazing crafts. We are really lucky to have them.”
Service Team projects might not always be games, but the group certainly always seems to have fun. If you have a vision for how to address an unrecognized need in the community, or would like to get involved in some of the current projects, contact Sally.
Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 31, when the service team is hosting its Annual Day of Service. Check the Dartmouth Graduate Community Service Team’s Facebook page for information on the event, or sign up here and choose which organization you would like to be of service to.