Every year, thousands of UC Merced students volunteer around the city, whether cleaning parks, spending time with the elderly or tutoring children, and one university employee had her finger in just about every pie.
As the associate director of student life, Vernette Doty oversees civic leadership, which means she’s charged with helping to meld UC Merced and the city as they grow. She’s also the engine behind a food pantry that feeds scores of students.
While those tasks may sound daunting, to hear Doty describe her job it sounds like a blast. “Well, I think I have the best job on campus,” the 54-year-old said.
Somewhere in the back of their minds, people may want to volunteer, she said, but they’ll often pooh-pooh it because they live busy lives. Once they give in to volunteerism, they realize how much they get back.
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The partnerships are mutually beneficial. “I really want to develop that sense of, ‘We’re doing this together,’ ” Doty said.
Originally from Southern California, Doty said she “loves” Merced because of the people. Her love flows onto the UC Merced campus because of the university’s student body.
DeVonyo Bills, an Earth systems sciences major, has worked with Doty on programs such as Merced County Project 10%, in which college students meet with local children and share their stories of making a decision to finish high school despite their struggles.
The Bay Area transplant, who works as an intern in Doty’s office, said life might be better if more people were like Doty. “I’ve never gone into the office without seeing her smile,” the 21-year-old said.
Bills said Doty’s positive and welcoming personality never fails. Even when an event doesn’t go well, he said, she never gets rattled and always has a “we’ll-get-’em-next-time” attitude.
Doty’s passion for the community is evident in the many hours she puts in. “She definitely loves what she does and it shows in her work, because she does it joyfully and enthusiastically,” he said.
Thanksgiving and Christmastime are also parts of the year when Doty works her magic by planning gift drives and hunger awareness campaigns for students and faculty.
Charles Nies, interim vice chancellor of student affairs, said Doty is both passionate and compassionate, and that’s what makes her good at her job. “Her ability to link her passion with her compassion for others really comes through,” he said. “It’s reflected in her dedication to the work she does.”
Doty has been successful at not just “sticking” a student with an organization, Nies said, but rather making sure the relationships are mutually beneficial and allow each side to improve. “There’s times when we’re not sure how she gets it all done,” he said.
While organizing volunteerism throughout the community, Nies said, Doty realized that there are students who could benefit from assistance. That’s when she started putting together the food pantry, an official U.S. Department of Agriculture food distribution site that takes place on the third Friday of every month at the Tri-College Center at Merced College.
Though open to all, Doty said, the year-old food pantry is focused primarily to aid students who are having a hard time stretching their groceries through the end of the month. The pantry, which is partnered with the Merced County Food Bank, feeds an average of 250 to 300 people per month.
With 62 percent of the student body first-generation college students, many come from low- or moderate-income families. “When they run out of money, they can’t call home (for more),” she said. “A number of our students are sending financial aid money home to their families.”
About 75 percent of the people fed by the pantry are students, she said.
Thinking about getting dirty or participating in manual labor at a volunteer site might not inspire excitement, she said, but once the work starts, the volunteers always hit pay dirt.
It seems to be working for her. “I love participating and getting other people involved, and being part of a community,” Doty said.
Doty’s next project is National Day of Service and Remembrance, which is planned for Sept. 11. To learn more about the national event, go to www.nationalservice.gov.