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Penn State Students pioneer local United Way charity  

With 1,400 United Way offices across the country, it's tough to be unique. It's tough to be different, to have that one element that distinguishes you from the rest. The Centre County United Way found its distinctive feature in the 40,000 young men and women who migrate to our community every year.

Believe it or not, the Student United Way at Penn State is the only recognized student-run United Way organization in the country. While we love to boast about our claim to fame, our vision is to start other Student United Way chapters across the country. Students are becoming increasingly civic-minded and Student United Way creates an opportunity for students to make a great difference.

Students across the country serve as temporary community members while at college. At Penn State, these students live in the surrounding communities, support local businesses and even pay local parking tickets. The goal is to take these students and give them the opportunity to give back to these communities.

The Penn State Student United Way works closely with the Centre County United Way and its 39 agencies. The first objective is to assist in fundraising. These efforts include different events including benefit concerts at downtown bars and spaghetti dinners for other students.

The biggest fundraiser, however, is the spinoff of the annual Trash to Treasure sale. Seeing the success of the large Trash to Treasure sale in May, the Student United Way jumped on the idea of hosting a smaller sale after the fall semester. This sale has seen great success during the past few years, growing to raise more than $5,000. The members of Student United Way take on a majority of the responsibilities and have the opportunity to coordinate with different departments within Penn State and work with other community members outside of the Centre County United Way.

Student United Way also focuses on service in the community. While the 39 agencies supported by the Centre County United Way appreciate the funding, they also need helping hands. The second goal of the Student United Way is to provide these resources to the community.

When the Centre County United Way holds an event involving service, it can always count on plenty of Penn State students to volunteer. These events include the recent Day of Caring, where many Student United Way members as well as Penn State athletes teamed up to do service work all across campus.

Then, there is the Jeans for Teens program, which provides students an opportunity to really get involved and make an immediate impact in a child's life. The program pairs up Penn State students with local children who are too old for Toys for Tots but too young to get a job. The pair spend an afternoon shopping together. It is amazing to see how much of a difference two hours of time can make in these kid's lives.

The relationship between the Centre County United Way and the Penn State Student United Way is obviously mutually beneficial, but even more importantly it benefits the people of the community. The value of getting students involved in the community is truly priceless. It also makes it likely that former Student United Way members will volunteer in the communities where they eventually live and work. We may have to change the claim of having the only Student United Way, but it will be worth it simply to see the success of the Penn State Student United Way spread across the country.

Bryan P. King is a senior majoring in marketing, president of the Penn State Student United Way and a native of Centre County. For more information on Centre County United Way, visit www.ccunitedway.org

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