Bama Gives Back: Student Service Highlights 

Bama Gives Back: Student Service Highlights 

For students at The University of Alabama, community service is a way to make an authentic difference in Tuscaloosa. Students in leadership roles for service organizations say volunteerism is a way to broaden your horizons, meet new people and improve your resumé, all while supporting your local community.  

Volunteering does not only benefit the community but can improve your self-esteem as well. Studies show that community service can increase your social and relationship skills, combat depression and boost your happiness overall. 

There are myriad volunteer groups on campus and in West Alabama. Here are six longtime campus service organizations. Time commitment, location, goals and requirements are listed so you can see what community service opportunity works best for your schedule.  

1. Al’s Pals 

A college student is mentoring two students. He is doing an art project with them.

  • About: Youth mentorship program specializing in building impactful relationships with elementary students by not only helping them further their educational goals and relationship skills with a UA student mentor.
  • Time Commitment: 2 hours/week minimum; up to 8 hours/week for 10 weeks; Monday-Thursday 2:30-5:15 p.m. 
  • Location: One of five Tuscaloosa City or Tuscaloosa County elementary schools 
  • Requirements to Join: Background check 
  • Where to Apply: Online application found on @AlsPalsUA on Instagram 

Leah Zahm volunteered throughout high school. Coming to college, she was determined to continue. She joined Al’s Pals as a freshman to have a direct impact on the life of a child as a mentor.  

Zahm said Al’s Pals matters because, “a lot of the communities we serve are underserved. By using our resources and privileges at the University, we are helping further the community around us and ourselves while we are at the Capstone.” 

Now a senior, the biology major serves as team leader of Al’s Pals, the equivalent of president. 

Zahm said service has changed her life for the better. She wants to encourage freshmen to get involved the same way she did, whether in Al’s Pals or a similar group.

It is our responsibility to ensure that each individual mentee is seen and heard.

“We do field trips in the spring where students get to come to the UA campus. One of my favorite memories from Al’s Pals is when the third graders were dropped off by the engineering buildings,” she recalled, smiling. 

“They got so excited and were asking so many questions like ‘Are these your dorms? Do you live here?’ And we said, ‘No this is where we go to class.’

‘You get to go to class HERE?’ [they said] and we told them, ‘Yes, and you can too. You are so smart. You can get in here,’ Zahm said. “It was fun. They were so wowed by this campus.” 

Each semester, they have 400-600 mentors across five schools for five grades.  

“A one-to-one ratio of mentors to mentees is the optimal goal. It is our responsibility to ensure that each individual mentee is seen and heard,” said junior Morgan Rollins, an Al’s Pals volunteer. Rollins, a communicative disorders major, encourages all students to sign up.  

 “We appreciate all the help we can get,” Zahm said. “Through the Center for Service and Leadership, our mission is to consider not only what is best for you but what is best for the community so you can further yourself and others.” 

2. Beat Auburn Beat Hunger 

Students stand around or in a collection barrel at the West Alabama Food Bank.
  • About: A student-run organization that raises money and collects food for the West Alabama food bank.
  • Time Commitment: “What you make it” -Rebecca Wilson 
  • Location: On-campus 
  • Requirements to Join: None 
  • Where to Sign Up: Staff applications closed for fall 2023; people still needed to show up at events and donate – events kept up to date on @ua_babh on Instagram.

Beat Auburn Beat Hunger is a food drive that competes against Auburn University’s food drive organization for the seven weeks leading up to the Iron Bowl each year. BABH raises money and collects food for the West Alabama food bank while Auburn does the same for its respective food bank. 

“Food insecurity is incredibly prevalent in Alabama, as well as on our own campus. Alabama is ranked 48th in food insecurity. It affects the lives of so many families. We have an opportunity to make a lasting impact,” said Rebecca Wilson, BABH president. 

While staff applications are closed for the fall, BABH still needs people to donate canned or dried goods in the big, red barrels that will pop up around campus and Tuscaloosa before the Iron Bowl. 

We have an opportunity to make a lasting impact.

BABH partners with local businesses to raise money through percentage nights. If you make a purchase there on a specific day, then the West Alabama food bank will receive a certain percentage of that as a donation. 

“Whether it is coming to all our events or making a donation, we welcome all involvement from students, faculty, community members or Crimson Tide fans,” Wilson said. 

This year, donations are accepted Sept. 29-Nov. 16. Events can be found at @ua_babh on Instagram. 

“This is our 30th year in partnership with Auburn University,” Wilson said, “I hope we can continue to grow our impact on the state and make another 30 years of fighting food insecurity and beating Auburn.” 

3. Best Buddies 

  • About: “Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities…” – Best Buddies International 
  • Time: One meeting per month for associate members; if a one-on-one friend, then at least one extra meet-up per month with your Buddy 
  • Location: Various locations in Tuscaloosa 
  • Requirements to Join: If you are a one-on-one buddy, there is an interview. 
  • Where to Sign Up: @Bamabestbuddies Instagram bio 

Best Buddies International exists to empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Bama chapter hosts events once a month. Events in the last year have included a kick-off carnival, movie nights, afternoons in the park, a barnyard bash with a petting zoo and wagon rides, and a trunk-or-treat in October. 

“This is a space where everyone is equal and can belong,” said Carter Scott, a junior majoring in Operations Management. He is serving as this year’s Campus Ambassador. His job is to recruit more UA students to become Buddies. His favorite event so far has been the annual trunk-or-treat. 

“The trunk-or-treat is consistently one of everybody’s favorite Best Buddies events. Seeing everybody in costume brings a lot of joy. That was one where I really felt like the effort everyone put in was appreciated and it came together to make a great event,” Scott said. 

I have lots of resources at my disposal for my own success and it is my belief I should share those gifts with others.

To become an associate or general member of the Bama chapter, all you need to do is join the chapter’s GroupMe, which can be found in the @Bamabestbuddies Instagram bio and consistently show up to events. Bama Best Buddies also provides adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tuscaloosa with one-on-one friendships, if UA students choose to apply to be a Buddy. The annual dues are $25. 

Scott meets up with his Buddy twice a month outside of the monthly event. They have each other’s numbers and call or text once a week. Scott says having a one-to-one friendship with a Buddy is a really manageable time commitment. 

All Buddies go through an application process. Most have their own jobs, inlcuding many at the RISE Program

Best Buddies is looking for more students to volunteer, especially male students. If you want to support Best Buddies, but can’t make it to any events, you can support this organization through fundraising. The chapter partners with local businesses to host percentage nights.  

“There’s more to life than just my classes or my internship…I have lots of resources at my disposal for my own success and it is my belief I should share those gifts with others. The world is larger than just ourselves,” Scott said. “We should take whatever we have in ourselves that is not absolutely necessary for our own wellbeing and give it to others.” 

4. UA Habitat for Humanity 

Habitat for Humanity build crew wears hard hats as they construct a house.
  • About: An organization dedicated to building, educating, advocating and fundraising.
  • Time Commitment: Chapter meetings are Tuesdays at 6 p.m., once or twice a month. Campus Chapter Build Days occur weekly with two shifts, 8:30 a.m.-noon or 1-4:30 p.m. Habitat Tuscaloosa, builds every day except Sunday and Tuesday. Anyone can join for non-campus chapter build days as well.
  • Location: Around Tuscaloosa; transportation provided to build sites 
  • Requirements to Join: None 
  • Where to Sign Up: UA Habitat 

Since the April 2011 tornado that damaged or destroyed 12% of Tuscaloosa, Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa has built nearly 100 houses and repaired over 500. The University of Alabama Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, founded in 2012, partners with Habitat Tuscaloosa to help build homes, communities and hope. 

People don’t have to swing a hammer to be a member. In addition to building houses, Habitat for Humanity aims to educate people about housing insecurity, advocate for affordable housing, and fundraise. 

Students are welcome at chapter meetings to learn more. The leadership team provides information on current projects, announces upcoming events, facilitates social activities, and features guest speakers such as builders from Habitat Tuscaloosa. 

I love how Habitat allows people to see in real-time the effects of their work.

Matthew Stumpf is in his fifth year of studies at the Capstone, pursuing a master’s degree in finance. For the last five years, he has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. This is his second year leading as president. 

“One happy memory I have is from last August when UA hosted a big volunteer day. One of the sites was a Habitat build site. As a senior who got involved with Habitat my freshman year, getting to work with freshmen who were just starting their journey at UA was a really great full-circle moment,” Stumpf said. “Everyone was so eager to get involved in the community and put in a lot of hard work.” 

Habitat for Humanity International was co-founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller, a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.  

“I love how Habitat allows people to see in real-time the effects of their work, as every nail they hammer into a house brings a community member one step closer to having a new home. I hope our campus chapter can continue to inspire people to build, serve, and become more connected to the local community,” Stumpf said. 

5. UA Miracle, formerly UA Dance Marathon 

UA Miracle dances at the Bamathon fundraiser dance party.
  • About: Student-led group that fundraises for Children’s of Alabama Hospital 
  • Time: Full member meetings are once a month; service events held sporadically throughout year, like Bamathon, push days and percentage nights 
  • Location: On-campus 
  • Requirements to Join: None 

Children’s Miracle Dance Marathon exists on over 400 campuses that are all a part of this fundraising effort. The University of Alabama chapter is called UA Miracle. They raise money for the Children’s of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. 

Throughout the year, they organize different fundraising days. This includes percentage nights at local businesses, and push days are when they “push” people to donate, often via social media stories. One of the most fun days to be a part of UA Miracle is at a “miracle family” event, for example, a carnival for families affected by a child’s illness.  

“This gives us a chance to see who we are fundraising for and gives them a chance just to be a kid,” said Riley Adam, a senior biology major. UA Miracle has 10 families that they directly work with who come to campus. 

Every family at Children’s [of Albama] uses one of the services that we fund.

Last year, UA Miracle partnered with the Alabama Frozen Tide Hockey Team to give kids staying at Children’s Hospital “the VIP experience.” 

“Kids meet the team and get assigned a hockey player to be their buddy. They get to drop a puck onto the rink and have a really cool sports experience that they wouldn’t get to have without [UA Miracle],” said Adam. 

Adam serves as vice president of internal operations. She has been involved since freshman year. She said, “We hope for brighter futures where kids can be kids and not worry about their illness.” 

UA Miracle raised over $2.5 million in 13 years to directly fund social services, Sunshine School, pastoral care and child life specialists. To be a “miracle maker,” or general member, it’s $25, but many student organizations will have a prepaid team. 

“Every family at Children’s uses one of the services that we fund. While we have only 10 families that we see, every child is impacted by UA Miracle,” said Adam. 

6. Reading Allies 

A college student volunteer reads to a 3rd grader.
  • About: A local reading tutoring program for children in Tuscaloosa
  • Time: 30 minutes/week for 10 weeks, minimum 
  • Location: An elementary school in the Tuscaloosa city or county school systems
  • Requirements to Join: Background check, 16 years or older, reliable transportation 

Elementary literacy is the catalyst for success for the rest of students’ lives. Students who do not read at their grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Reading Allies began in 2017 to tackle this issue. 

“We have people to volunteer, so what can we do? What would happen if we wrote individual lesson plans …written by retired teachers or part-time teachers for the lowest level of reading students and partnered them with trained volunteers? …That first year, 100% of those 15 students got to grade level. Since 2017, we have continued to double in size every year,” said Reading Allies co-director Claire Stebbins. 

…Volunteers can emphatically say, ‘Yes, my time with the student is making a difference in their life.’

This fall, more than 600 Reading Allies volunteers are serving at 14 schools. While there are no more spots for fall 2023, volunteers will be recruited for the spring.

Reading Allies lasts 10 weeks each semester, for 30 minutes per week minimum, a total of only 5 hours inside the school. There is a process in case a volunteer cannot attend for one week.

“It’s a way to make a difference in a student’s life in a short amount of time,” Stebbins added.  

“When people are volunteering, they think ‘Can I make a difference?’ and in Reading Allies, those volunteers can emphatically say, ‘Yes, my time with the student is making a difference in their life,’” said Stebbins. 

More Opportunities and Organizations

The Center for Service and Leadership at UA offers more opportunities. Their CSL events calendar shows upcoming service days. 

The Source provides a full list of campus organizations, many of which are service-based. Search keywords to identify an organization with a specific mission.