Jahmal Williams knows what it takes to run a successful student group. As an LSA senior and president of the Black Volunteer Network, Williams describes himself as a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

Beth Dykstra
LSA junior Amira May, LSA sophomore Diamond Moore and Engineering sophomore Vernon Hampton work on a
project for the Black Volunteer Network. (Courtesy of Black Volunteer Network)
Beth Dykstra
The Black Volunteer Network works around the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area at places such as the Community Learning Post and the Sunrise Association, while also offering programs on campus for students. (Courtesy of Black Volunteer Network)

“When I plan an event, I want to see everyone else in the group out there doing their thing. I like sitting back and watching others enjoy what they are doing,” Williams said.

As a strong, young leader, Williams has the right attitude in guiding his fellow peers to service opportunities.

Founded in 1994, the Black Volunteer Network was formed to assist black students, faculty, staff and organizations in identifying appropriate avenues for service.

According to Williams, BVN started as a subset of the Black Student Union because they felt they needed a volunteer organization. Williams said that a lot of students come to campus wanting to get involved, but because it is a new area, they don’t know where to go and what to do.

“We provide an outlet for that to happen,” Williams said.

Membership to BVN is open to anyone who is willing to be dedicated to volunteer, with most of the volunteer efforts focusing on servicing underrepresented students and communities.

Williams said that BVN is always looking for committed individuals. One such individual is executive board member Candace Jackson, an LSA junior and a community service co-coordinator. She described her time spent with BVN as a positive experience.

“I got involved my freshman year through a co-worker and former executive board member. She invited me to come to one of the meetings, and I brought a few friends. I was really impressed by the members,” Jackson said.

“They were all so dedicated, and there were so many different activities, one-time projects and weekly sites to choose from. They made it really easy to get involved,” she added.

The community service chairs go out and coordinate service opportunities with community centers, homeless shelters and nursing homes, providing numerous service opportunities to those who are willing to devote their time to help.

BVN sets up weekly volunteer sites around the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti community. They also have their own service programs so that students can get involved in other, more centralized, campus opportunities.

Some of the places they volunteer at are the Hikone Community Center on Packard Street, the Sunrise Assisted living home off of Plymouth Road and the Community Leaning Post in downtown Ann Arbor in the community center.

In addition to off-campus service, BVN hosts a freshman block party at the Michigan Union in the beginning of the year, and Soul on Ice — a fundraiser for Adopt a Family during Christmastime through the Ginsberg Center — at Yost Ice Arena.

In January, BVN hosted their annual Martin Luther King weekend program. This program works with Detroit and Ypsilanti high school students to raise greater awareness about Dr. King. They try to get 50 to 60 high school students and bring them to campus to get students excited about college and answer their questions, hoping to get them more involved on Martin Luther King’s birthday.

“We try to have a diverse array of programs so that we can reach more people. Our social activities are meant to unify the black community, plus raise money for more volunteer activities, as well as publicize for BVN. The MLK program is our biggest volunteer program on campus,” Williams said.

BVN also offers students the opportunity to spend a week together through Alternative Spring Break at work sites in Chicago and New York.

Upcoming events for BVN include the Kids Fair on March 11. BVN will work with K-Grams at Crisler arena, with a booth set up where the kids can come to play games and win prizes.

On March 17, BVN will also host their annual basketball tournament, Hoops Hoopla, to raise money for the group. The event is a 5-on-5 tournament, scheduled to take place in the sports Coliseum on Hill Street. The cost to enter is $30 per team and the admission price for the general public is $6.50. Tickets will be sold at the Michigan Union Ticket Office. In addition to the tournament, there is a 3-point contest, with a DJ and selected dance groups providing entertainment.

Williams said he hopes that all of these events will bring more people to the service community, drawing fellow students closer together in their quest to help others in need.

“Our goal is to see us grow in numbers. Right now we have eight weekly volunteer sites we work with, with about 25-30 active members. I would also like to see us effect a greater population in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Black Volunteer Network can e-mail the executive board at Bvn.eboard@umich.edu or attend one of their meetings, which are held every other Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Ambatana Lounge at South Quad Residence Hall.

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