Posted May 11, 2009
Willy Oppenheim got involved with Tedford Housing his first year at Bowdoin because he wanted exposure to many different aspects of the Brunswick community. Throughout his first year, he volunteered at the shelter for homeless men on a weekly basis, which allowed him to build relationships with both the staff and guests of Tedford. At the end of the year, the two student leaders of the student-led service organization Tedford Housing, which coordinates volunteers to serve the evening meal seven nights a week, asked Willy if he would be willing to assume leadership of the group the following year.
In his role as a leader of the program, Willy has seen more clearly the purpose students can play overall, and the impact the experience can have on the student volunteers. He still continues to volunteer regularly at the shelter himself, and hopes more Bowdoin students will become engaged in the local community to become aware of important issues—and then learn how to address them with thoughtful and effective action.
To encourage public service on an international level Willy helped to establish the Global Citizens Grant at Bowdoin. It provides students with the opportunity to pursue summer volunteer and public service projects outside of the United States with the intent of supporting student projects that are independently designed and focus on providing direct service by working in local communities. By enabling students to immerse themselves in foreign cultures, the Global Citizens Grant aims to encourage a broadening of perspective among volunteers, the foreign communities in which they will work, and the Bowdoin community to which they will return.
Similarly Willy was instrumental in the creation of The Omprakash Foundation. As a registered 501c3 organization, it offers a new model of global education that empowers people everywhere to become conscious participants in processes of social transformation. Their website contains an ever-expanding database of grassroots educational projects with which they have established personal relationships. In the democratic, all-empowering spirit of YouTube and Wikipedia, the content of this website is user-generated: as people young and old travel the world to volunteer and build relationships with scattered schools and libraries, they are invited to bring these educational projects into the Omprakash network.
“After volunteering at Tedford, no Bowdoin student can return to a classroom discussion of homelessness—or any intellectual discussion, for that matter—without feeling a greater sense of urgency, a greater need to think critically and deliberately about one’s responsibilities as a citizen of this country and this planet.”