Accomplishments show benefits of volunteering
As we wrap up another school year, I'm struck by what a historic year it has been. We are at a defining moment as a generation. Over and over again, I am amazed and inspired by what we can accomplish by volunteering our time, organizing on our campus and advocating for change locally and nationwide.
I want to thank everyone on campus who has supported New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Student Chapters this year and let you know a quick summary of what your support has accomplished.
During what was possibly the most important election of our lifetime, we helped register and turn out young voters. At the three main Rutgers campuses across the state, we registered 6,000 students to vote and made over 28,000 reminders to students during the days leading up to Election Day through e-mails, calls, canvassing, tabling and text messages. We saw turn out increases as high as 66 percent in New Brunswick's student-heavy precincts. Across the country, there were 3.4 million more young voters in 2008 compared to 2004. The youth share of the electorate also surpassed that of people over 65 — an impressive feat.
As our country continues to face one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression and more people are forced into poverty every day, we worked to meet immediate needs and make a long-term impact. We joined the national Hunger Clean-Up, an annual one-day serve-a-thon to generate volunteer power and funds for local, national and international agencies fighting poverty. We are proud to say that Rutgers New Brunswick held the most successful Hunger Clean-Up out of any school in the country, mobilizing 148 students to volunteer in their community and raising more than $7,000 to fund projects like Elijah's Promise's new soup kitchen facility in New Brunswick. We also organized the 2009 National Student Conference on Hunger and Homelessness, where students from New Jersey and other states attended a Faces of Homelessness Panel hosted by formerly homeless individuals, an Issues Panel hosted by University faculty experts on poverty-related issues, a lobby training hosted by New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-14, and more.
We are really proud of our progress promoting solutions to one of the most pressing problems facing our planet: global warming. In January, we worked to make sure that the economic stimulus package included critical funding for programs that will create jobs and protect the environment, including $16 billion for public transit and $78 billion for clean energy and green infrastructure. Then we continued to generate more than a thousand signatures and hand-written letters to Congressman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., urging him to fight for legislation to put us on a path to solve global warming by increasing clean energy, reducing emissions and creating new jobs. We brought Pallone to campus to speak last week on a global warming solutions panel, and presented him with University students' signatures and letters of support. Now we are continuing to work with him to make sure he tells Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to push for a global warming bill that is as strong as it needs to be.
We do not need to tell any readers that the cost of college keeps going up, while textbooks companies artificially inflate the price of books by bundling them with CDs and coming out with unnecessary new editions. We helped convince Congress in January to include measures in the economic stimulus package like a $17 billion increase in Pell grant funding, more work-study aid and bigger tax credits for low-income students and their families. When Obama proposed a 2010-2011 budget that significantly reinvests in the Pell grant and pays for itself by cutting excessive subsidies to banks, we made sure Pallone would encourage his fellow members of Congress to keep those provisions in the budget. We filled a mock "textbook" with petition signatures, got students to call in and even met with him one-on-one last week.
We continued to fight for clean and fishable waterways. New Jersey Community Water Watch, a joint project of NJPIRG and AmeriCorps, mobilized more than 700 volunteers in New Brunswick and Piscataway this semester to clean up their local communities. We brought together 13 organizations statewide holding clean-ups in 23 communities. More than 1,500 volunteers were mobilized to clean up the Raritan River in honor of Earth Day. Through our "Education Week," 46 students traveled across the state in four days and taught 2,225 K-12 kids about how they can impact their local waterways and be active community members.
Many of you have either volunteered your time to one of these efforts, signed a petition or came to an event. Thank you so much for your support; congratulations on what we have accomplished together, and we look forward to continuing to make positive social change in the fall.
Mohit Bhake is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in business. He is the College Avenue chapter chair of NJPIRG Student Chapters.