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November 23, 2015

UMass volunteer group UCAN seeks to expand

Courtesy of

The University of Massachusetts Commonwealth Honors College has recently decided to formally sponsor campus volunteer group UCAN Volunteer to increase student volunteering on and off campus.

The Commonwealth College now allows the group access to school resources and use of some space on campus.

The University Community Academic Network (UCAN) is a student-run group that connects UMass students to volunteer opportunities in Amherst while avoiding pre-requisite classes and weekly meetings. The group has more than 100 members.

Forgoing a formal weekly meeting, the group, headed by juniors Kurt Schultz, Seamus Hughes and Sam Mardell, instead asks volunteers to attend an orientation meeting in the Goodell Building lounge.

These orientations – headed by Kimberly Stender, volunteer coordinator for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public School District – train volunteers in the policy and procedure of working with Amherst.

While they lack a formal office now, Schultz said the group was “seeking to obtain an office to help answer students’ questions,” in keeping with its “easy accessibility to students.”

Most volunteer positions available from UCAN concern working with schools in the Amherst area. Positions range from after-school tutoring to aiding students during school-sponsored ski trips.

Also available for potential yet busy volunteers are one-day opportunities organized separately from the school volunteer program.

These opportunities, led by juniors Michael Kalfopoulos and Samantha Williams, focus more on community service in the wider Amherst area, rather than within the public schools.

Future one-day events continue to be in the works, Schultz said.

UCAN began more than two years ago in Orchard Hill and had about 25 members in its first year.

Seeking to continue the volunteer work they did in high school, the three formative executive officers desired a group that “didn’t require taking a course or attending a weekly required meeting,” Schultz said.

Unable to find the group that they sought, Schultz and his colleagues instead formed their own volunteer group upon requesting opportunities from the local principals of the district.

Finding the desire for volunteers to be higher than anticipated, UCAN became a “volunteer bridge between UMass and the Amherst community,” Schultz said.

In fall 2011, UCAN hosted “Halloweenfest,” which allowed UMass students to organize and facilitate a trick-or-treat event for Amherst’s children in the Bangs Community Center. Halloweenfest was complete with haunted houses and other Halloween themed activities.

Schultz said UCAN is more “a network than a group” and continues to attract more student volunteers each day. Students interested in joining UCAN should contact the group’s leaders by email at

Mitch Scuzzarella can be reached at


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