Amber and Jorine from Serve the City meet people outside their ‘student bubble’
‘Showing kindness in practical way’. That is the first sentence that pops up if you google the Dutch volunteer organization ‘Serve the City’. In Tilburg, student volunteers carry out this mission and they are committed to making a contribution to the city’s wellbeing. Board members Amber van Ginneken and Jorine van Gasteren have already meant a great deal to the homeless, the underprivileged, the elderly, children, and the lonely. One of the latest initiatives is consultation with the municipality on a contribution to helping Ukrainians who fled the war. But they are at least as enthusiastic about what Serve the City has brought them: ‘I notice that I have started to look at the world differently, with a more open mind.’
Jorine (22), a third-year Bachelor’s student of Psychology, was taught to volunteer at an early age. Her parents have always been very active for the food bank. ‘As a child, I used to help collect and sort the products. I also used to canvas the neighborhood for coupons and compose parcels for Mother’s Day. I loved doing that. When I left my parental home in Drenthe for Tilburg, I already had an idea to do something similar as a student too.’ Via a student association, she came into contact with Serve the City. She has served on the board as the treasurer for six months now and coordinates the Serve the Homeless and Serve the Gentle committees. ‘I applied for this position at the last minute. At first I was afraid to, but when I was more or less asked, I took the plunge.’
As a child, I used to help my parents collect products for the food bank
Amber (21), a Master’s student of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, had never volunteered before, but her mother had. ‘She used to read to the children of Syrian refugees to improve their language skills. Her stories have inspired me to do something similar.’ But the direct reason was that Amber was looking for something to do instead of an internship. ‘I was in the phase where I had to do an internship, but did not feel up to it. I was looking for an alternative that would get me some experience and help me prepare for a proper internship. That’s how I met Serve the City.’ Like Jorine, she has been on the board for six months now, as vice-president. In addition, she is active for the ‘Serve the Wisdom’ committee.
Serve the City Tilburg, established in 2010, had to make lots of changes almost overnight at the beginning of the corona crisis. Many activities that they organize for their target groups suddenly couldn’t go ahead. At the same time, the Covid crisis created urgent problems for many people: they were no longer allowed to leave their home or didn’t dare to do so, they felt lonely or needed practical help. Serve the City quickly responded to these needs. ‘Tilburg residents were asked to let us know if they needed any help, for instance, buying groceries or picking up medication, and we found the volunteers to help,’ Jorine says. The number of student-volunteers grew quickly at the time. Students were keen to do their bit at a time when they themselves were often housebound because their classes were all online. This earned Serve the City the Tilburg Volunteer Award at the end of 2020.
I meet people I would never have met in my ‘student bubble’
Although the corona pandemic is not over by any means, Serve the City has resumed most of its activities. One of the recent activities stands out, as far as Amber and Jorine are concerned. Amber narrates with glittering eyes: ‘Last year, the Serve the Kids and Serve the Homeless committees raised funds together with Stichting Leergeld, an organization that focuses on the social participation of underprivileged children, to get pupils from low-income families a backpack filled with school supplies.’ The transition from primary to secondary education is expensive. All sorts of things need to be purchased, such as books, book cover paper, pens, pencil cases, notebooks, etc. Some families simply do not have the money. Serve the City put out boxes in a secondary school and called on pupils to donate materials they had left over. ‘The reaction was overwhelming,’ Amber says. ‘We were able to fill fifty backpacks with everything a child could need to begin secondary school, and then we still had twenty crates full of school supplies. We purchased the backpacks with the proceeds from a fundraising activity.’ Stichting Leergeld, who distributed the backpacks and the school supplies to the families, told the board of Serve the City that the children were thrilled to receive the backpacks. ‘We are very proud of the success of this activity,’ says Jorine.
When you see the children playing with the games we had brought along, it makes you so happy
Jorine tells about a picknick they recently organized with Sterk Huis, an organization that offers help to people who are in a difficult or unsafe (home) situation. It was the first activity they were able to do together with the target group after a very long time. ‘The stories you hear there can be pretty harrowing! When you see the children smiling and playing with the games we had brought along, it makes you so happy.’
‘I have only been a board member for six months, but it has brought me so much already. I feel much more confident, I’m no longer afraid to express myself or to speak in public,’ Jorine says in answer to the question of what Serve the City has brought her. ‘I look at things in a different way. I am more aware of my environment. Thanks to Serve the Green, the committee that focuses on sustainability, I try to take home as little plastic as possible. I come into contact with people whom I would never have met in my ‘student bubble’. I deliver meals, and I came into contact with an elderly gentleman, for example. Now I also go for walks with him. I am really interested in seeing the other side of the community as well.’
I look at the world differently, with a more open mind
Amber echoes this sentiment. ‘I notice that I have started to look at the world differently, with a more open mind. I suddenly became more aware of how privileged you are as a student with a roof over your head, if you can study at a university, if money is never a problem. You are suddenly aware of how lucky you are.’ Her work for the board has also helped her a lot to develop her communication and social skills. ‘I am so much more confident now. That’s definitely going to help me with the internship.’ In hindsight, she regrets that she did not immediately become actively involved in a student association in her first year. ‘In my first year, I was very focused on my studies, but on reflection I should have looked further than that.’
What would Jorine and Amber like to tell prospective and first-year students? Jorine, firmly: ‘Enjoy the most wonderful time of your life.’ ‘And become a member of an association, become a volunteer, whatever, but do something!’ Amber adds. Jorine smiles: ‘Preferably at Serve the City!’
Tilburg University stimulates its students to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as actively participating in student and study associations, becoming members of the University Council or a School Council, taking Honors or Outreaching programs, taking part in Studium Generale activities, etc. In this way, as ‘young professionals’, they will soon be well able to apply their knowledge, skills, and character to help make the world a better place. This mission is set out in the Tilburg Educational Profile.
Date of publication: 3 January 2022