Sarah Sparber has been working as a Team Advisor for the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) for about five years now.
“I love it,” she said, explaining that she had been looking for a job like this for a while.
Sparber moved to Hamilton, N.Y. when her husband, Professor Chad Sparber, accepted a job in Colgate’s economics department. She worked as a licensed hairstylist for a few years and then moved into a position at the local nursery school that her two kids attended.
“Once they got into school at [Hamilton Central School], that’s when I started to work for Colgate,” Sparber said. “I reached out to the COVE director at the time. I knew her and I knew other people who had worked in the COVE… They constantly talked about how much they loved working in the COVE and being involved in the community and getting to know the students, and I was like, ‘That sounds amazing!’ I’ve always done volunteer service myself and still continue to do that in Hamilton now, but the fact that you got to work with students and be involved in your community through outreach and volunteerism, I was like ‘This is amazing; this sounds right up my alley.’”
Unfortunately, Sparber was unable to find a position at the COVE then and instead began working at Colgate’s Advancement Office for Special Events.
“It’s a really fast-paced, interesting office to work in, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do,” she said. “I didn’t interact with any students while I was there, and [student interaction] was the part that I really liked.”
Since Sparber’s husband is a professor of economics, he has led study groups that she and her kids have been able to participate in over the years. During these trips, her family has had the opportunity to build lasting relationships with Colgate students.
“You travel a lot with the students and you get to know them… Some of those students were my kids’ very first baby sitters. My daughter has been a flower girl in one of their weddings!” she said. “I loved getting to know the students in that way, so I knew I wanted to work with [them].”
When a job opened up to be a Team Advisor for the COVE, a position that involves overseeing and guiding student volunteering teams, Sparber knew that that was what she was looking for. Based on her previous interest in working in the COVE office, she was contacted by the director, asked to apply and given the job.
“There are six staff members in the COVE and we all advise teams. Some of us have dual roles, like the director has a couple of teams, the assistant director has a couple of teams,” Sparber said. “Then there are part-time staff like myself. There are three of us and that is all we do, we only advise teams… There are 40 teams total and I have 13 of them.”
“I meet with the team leaders of each team either weekly or bi-weekly to check in with them, to see if they are honoring their commitment that we made with our community partners… like if we are supposed to send X amount of volunteers certain days a week, then we have to make sure we are organized enough and showing up when we are supposed to,” she said. “Some of these nonprofit organizations really depend on our volunteers, and that is a big way of how they can function.”
As a Team Advisor, Sparber plays a crucial role in facilitating and executing these acts of service.
“If the team needs any support, if they need anything ordered, you know, supplies, support, ideas, a checklist to make sure they are proceeding with everything they have planned… That’s my role in the COVE.”
Sparber’s position in the COVE office puts her at the heart of the coordination and inner workings of these teams, but that is not the only aspect of her engagement. She lives and works in Hamilton; it’s where her kids go to school, trick-or-treat and where she actively participates in her own volunteer service throughout the year. Her engagement with the COVE includes witnessing and experiencing each team’s unique impact on the community around her, in her own family and in the families they are close to.
“I get to live vicariously through all of the students’ good deeds that they do, and in the community I live in!” she laughed. “I benefit from these students; either they are volunteering at my community’s local food cupboard, or they are tutoring my own kids. The Hamilton outdoor group — my daughter participated in that… I had another daughter who was tutored by one of our clubs and she loved it, loved it! You know, it inspired her to be a reader when that was something she was struggling with.”
Sparber works daily with Colgate students who are trying to make a difference, and sees that difference made in the lives of the people in her community. She can experience, first-hand, the impact these teams and the COVE office can have on the community.
“Our volunteer teams aren’t just focused in Hamilton, you know, we go all the way to Sherburne. Each town’s population is small but we are kind of touching a lot of people though, which is really beneficial to the area that we live in… We are able to branch out quite a bit in the name of Colgate and the good deeds our students are doing, which I think is special.”