In 1989, Saint Anselm College committed resources to establish the Center for Volunteers. It did so with an understanding of the considerable need that existed in the greater Manchester area, and faith that an institutional response could make a difference.
Over the past 15 years community service has grown to become a central component of the student life experience at Saint Anselm as well as a defining characteristic of the college's identity.
From 1989-1991 the center operated with its half-time director, Professor Dan Forbes, running as fast as he could to keep up to student interest and community demand. Dan had an inkling of what the future was to bring when on the second day of operation a student marched into his office and pleaded for some way for students to help the victims of Hurricane Hugo. Within a month the center had conducted a park clean up in the city that generated $4,000 in contributions for Red Cross relief. Students have been bringing the urgent requests and their service dreams and aspirations to the center ever since.
Dan discovered the world of federal work study employment in the fall of 2001 when he hired a young woman to help him with the referral and placement process. Her five hours of work quickly became countless hours of dedicated service and genuine ownership of the center and its future.
As more students were added, the dream of what we could become grew exponentially. Resources were located to contribute to leadership training, and models for managing students developed and evolved. While the employment of students may have initially been driven by financial need, it soon evolved in to a tremendous learning opportunity for college students and an amazing new resource for the community.
The humble beginnings and subsequent growth of student leadership mirrors the humble beginnings and subsequent growth of service learning at Saint Anselm. In 1987 Dan Forbes began integrating service in to his social work courses as a way of teaching important course concepts, and a model for integrating service and learning was crafted with the help of Fr. Peter Guerin, O.S.B., dean of the college. Soon faculty in the criminal justice and psychology departments added service learning, and the Center for Volunteers and its student leadership corps administered student placement and support.
Today service learning is a learning option in more than 16 academic departments. Beginning in the 2004-2005 the center assumed a more formal role in service learning administration, and has begun training all of its on site student coordinators in service learning administration.
In 2000, Richard Meelia ('71) and the Meelia family provided the Center for Volunteers with a generous endowment as an expression of their commitment to the college and their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the Center for Volunteers.
In the fall of 2003, the staff of the Center for Volunteers decided to change the name to the Meelia Center for Community Service in recognition of the Meelias' generosity, faith, and confidence in the center's work.
Every step that the Meelia Center takes to more fully engage Saint Anselm with the community is an attempt to be good stewards of the blessing that the Meelias have bestowed.