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Pageantry with a purpose

As more and more people sat down in the Tuttle lounge to hear Miss Virginia 1999 Crystal Lewis speak last Tuesday, the gender discrepancies within the audience became clear. The girls calmly discussed careers, workloads and the weather. The guys laughed and joked among themselves embarrassingly, anticipating Lewis' arrival. But once she began speaking, however, both groups found that Lewis had more to discuss than her beauty queen career -- the value of volunteerism.

"I want to impart to you the importance -- not only the right, but the importance -- of why you are here, why you should make a difference," Lewis told the audience of about 30 people.

Her speech, part of the Tuttle Tuesdays series, commenced the events for the Oct. 24 National Make A Difference Day. Starting Oct. 9 with a canned food drive at the men's soccer game against VCU, the University participants will join over two million nationwide who are encouraging volunteerism.

In her speech, Lewis said the importance of involvement was illustrated by one of the greatest perceived national security threats --problems with violence and apathy among children.

"Parents have this fear harbored within themselves, and in college, we have potential to change it," Lewis said. "Change won't be because of the government, it won't be because of a computer chip, but because someone bothered to spend an hour or 30 minutes and said, 'We'll work on it until we get to the end of this concept.'"

Lewis, whose platform is volunteerism in the classroom, urged students to get involved in Make a Difference Day through the broad spectrum of volunteerism.

As a fellow college student -- a junior at Campbell University in Bowie's Creek, N.C. -- Lewis advised that the college environment is an ideal environment to initiate a project of one's own.

"We have the opportunity to generate ideas, the time to research, the benefit of each other to lean on, gain ideas and work together," she said. "You are your most valuable asset."

She also added that getting organized is the greatest impediment for volunteering.

"People don't understand how to connect with people," Lewis said.

From her organizational standpoint she described the implementation of a volunteer program such as the tutoring program she started at Campbell.

"Don't be afraid to be a fanatic about what you're doing," Lewis said. When people say "'Calm Down!' don't calm down; everything is a means to an end. People who were criticizing me are no longer laughing."

Sounding more like a politician than a beauty queen, Lewis elaborated on the different ways to market, delegate and use people as resources for an organization.

Her success was demonstrated when she was named a spokesperson for General Colin Powell's America's Promise, which awards organizations with money and resources to continue and build up their work. She was also honored as a Presidential Scholar. She also initiated a tutoring project in Hampton, Virginia.

But she also warned of the bumps student volunteers may face along the way.

"Every idea has to be followed through," she said. "When people mess you up, you're screwed. When we work with children really hard in the classroom, I don't know what [his or her] Mom did that day. You go back to meet the child you believe is the same one, but you don't know."

Despite the daily difficulties, Lewis stressed the bigger picture, emphasizing the importance of giving back to those who have supported students along the way.

"People should want to be part of the thread that makes up society," she said. "This is your golden opportunity; don't let it pass you by."

Lewis' humor, inspiration and self-labeled "Kool-Aid dreams and sunshine" set the tone for the upcoming events.

Although Lewis began the week with a bang, Frank Griffiths, fourth-year College student and coordinator for Make a Difference Day, set the precedent years ago.

"Two years ago students, faculty and staff decided to get together and tutored children from low-income housing," Griffiths said.

Griffiths' project was one of 10 selected from a nationwide pool of applicants. Celebrity Paul Newman presided over a panel of judges awarding a $10,000 grant.

This year, University President John T. Casteen III will help students and faculty members paint and clean houses and pick apples.

Griffiths said everyone is free to come and help out. He also noted that he thinks there is a lack of male volunteers at the University.

In response to Lewis's "make it happen" challenge to the community Ashley Tistadt, second-year Education student, left Tuttle coffee house with something more than she expected when she went in.

"I was really impressed," Tistadt said.

Last Tuesday night Lewis emphasized the importance of volunteering and how its returns are greater than most students may predict.

College students can find a "niche in life where they fit just right. Most of us are searching for one thing to do, right?" said Lewis. "When you go into volunteer situations and you are not sure what you will glean, you will come away with something more than you originally invested. I encourage group activity that mushrooms"


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