Earlier this month, the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) was named the nation’s recipient of the Presidential Award for Economic Opportunity, certifying UNO as a higher education leader in community engagement.
The award, which is part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, is the highest honor a university or college can receive by the United States government for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.
The announcement of this year’s Honor Roll, made by Corporation for National and Community Service, identifies UNO as one of only four Presidential Award-level recipients and the only winner nationally for creating economic opportunity through community engagement efforts.
Read on below to learn about the volunteer opportunities provided throughout the year via UNO's Signature Service Days.
Signature Service Days
Each year, as part of the university’s “Signature Service Days” initiative, hundreds of university students partner with local high school students and community volunteers, dedicating part or all of their fall or spring breaks to service throughout the city of Omaha. Other service days are held throughout the year to give back to our community.
UNO’s Office of Civic and Social Responsibility organizes Signature Service Days throughout the academic year. These university-wide service days began in 2003 with the Seven Days of Service project. Starting with just 70 volunteers,the program has expanded to 6,800 volunteers participating in one or more of 16 Signature Service Days.
These days include Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service Day; Seven Days of Service; Global Youth Service Day; Three Days of Service; Veterans Day of Service and World AIDS Day. Service Days participants include UNO students, faculty, staff, high school students, and community volunteers. Signature Service Days exemplify the university’s commitment to “actively seek partnerships and stand ready to collaborate with all sectors of the city … creating wins for all.”
Signature Service Days projects address a broad range of critical community needs such as homelessness, poverty, conservation, refugee resettlement, elder care, as well as international issues such as Madagascar reforestation projects. Specific impacts included partnering with Habitat for Humanity for construction and renovation of homes, building community garden beds, cleaning and maintain city parks and preserves, food collection for the food bank and pantries.
The 6,800 volunteers contributed over 97,000 hours of service, equal to over two million dollars of volunteer labor contributions to the community.
For Fall Three Days of Service, MLK Day of Service, and Seven Days of Service, students participated on school holidays or breaks. For these days, each student provided a minimum of six hours of service a day with many students participating on multiple days.
Other Signature Service Days events occurred during scheduled days with student providing a minimum of 2-4 hours of service each day.
All Service Days involve collaborative relationships with high schools in the metropolitan area as well as community agencies such as Habitat for Humanity, the City of Omaha, the Botanical Garden, and multiple food pantries. Service Days are supported by the CNCS AmeriCorps program as well as by grants such as Youth Service America and local philanthropists. Continuous improvements of the programs and experiences are done through a computerized feedback system including reflections and evaluations from both the participants and nonprofit partners. Concentrated training sessions and data collection were conducted with the nonprofit partners to assess the positive impact of the program at all levels including participants, providers, and community.