Student group faces first-year challenges

By Samuel Charles

Students Helping Humanity, a new student group at Columbia, has a goal to do whatever it can to help those in need, not only within the college or city but globally as well.

No other student organization at the college is regarded as a community service group. The members’ future plans, while ambitious, are very new and will face some challenges in their first year, those close to the group said.

“The first challenge is [to help] the student body understand what the goal and objective of this new organization is so they can contribute and be part of something,” said Marcelo Caplan, associate professor in the Science and Math Department and faculty adviser for SHH.

Students Helping Humanity describes itself in its mission statement as an organization dedicated to helping local communities around the Chicagoland area. It also aims to educate college students about volunteerism, global responsibility and sustainable development.

However, the group’s small size may affect its success. At its first meeting of the year on Sept. 15, a total of 10 people were in attendance, including the president, vice president and secretary. Many members have a history of working with the elderly, people with disabilities or in other areas of volunteer work.

Though modestly sized at the moment, the organization plans to expand by working with other students and organizations.

“We definitely want to collaborate with Student Programming Board, the International Student Organization, Black Student Union, Latino Alliance and Asian Student Organization,” said Ariel Aguilera, vice president of SHH. “[Students] don’t necessarily have to be a member, but if they want to come with us, [they’re] more than welcome.”

Amalia Gonzalez, president of SHH, said once the group grows, committees will be appointed to help focus on specific aspects that may need attention. For example, the research team will work on finding worthy causes to raise money for, and the marketing team will promote the events.

Focus is another area that may present problems for the group.

In its mission statement, SHH says it wants to help local communities but also Third World countries. New member Alyssa Rogers said she believes there are pros and cons to this approach.

“It’s hard to focus your attention on two things, especially two different places that are very far away,” Rogers said. “But overall, I think it will be helpful because the more people you help, the better.”

There was a similar organization at the college last year, Students Helping Honduras. However, its focus was to help at-risk children in the impoverished country. There were no global ambitions.

Caplan is a native of Argentina. Because of his ties to the country, the group may go on a service trip later this academic year to help Argentinians in need.

Many of the group’s plans involve Third World countries in Latin America and South America, but SHH is not attaching itself to one specific area as Students Helping Honduras did.

“We don’t want to focus on the area but any area that is a Third World country,” Aguilera said. “We just have more of a connection [to that area] because our adviser is from Argentina.”

Students Helping Humanity worked over the summer and has already sponsored some events on campus. The group is currently collecting backpacks for children in Argentina and recently put on a tamale sale to benefit NephCure, an organization that conducts research to find cures for kidney diseases.

A few plans are set in stone for the organization even though it is so young.

“Our goal first is to be sure that we can mount this organization at Columbia,” Caplan said. “Our plan is to link ourselves with other chapters of similar organizations. You cannot be an isolated drop in the sea. You want to be the sea.”