This was the dilemma in 2004 for the leader of a small campus club that provided tutoring services at Wilfrid Laurier University. How can students be a part of the whole process, from fundraising to putting that money in action where it is needed? The idea the club came up with then has now ballooned into an internationally recognized non-profit organization called Students Offering Support, or SOS for short.
"It started out as just an opportunity for some students to get to know each other," explained then business and computer science student Greg Overholt, 25, now the NGO's Executive Director. "We got a couple of students together who were pretty good at math and we started to help our peers study for their exams. The groups of people wanting help got bigger and bigger and we realized that there was a lot of potential for us to raise money in this way."
With that, SOS was formed. The club would ask for a $20 donation from each student in exchange for good quality tutoring, led by peers, so the material was clear and understandable. At the end of the year, the money raised was sent to build education-based sustainable development projects in Latin American countries, which are built by student volunteers who travel there on outreach trips.
"It was a no-brainer for me," said Jason Frittaion, a student who has attended a number of SOS sessions and is now a tutor himself. "By learning from my peers, I understood the material so much better, did better on my exams, and I knew that my money was going to a good cause. It’s a win-win."
The students who provided the tutoring were offered the chance to bring the money to the chosen community, and build a new school, brick by brick themselves.
"We actually got to meet the kids who would be learning in the school that we built," said volunteer Melissa Desouza, who traveled to Belize as part of SOS' first outreach trip. "I had never done anything like that with another campus club."
The word spread, and now SOS is a fixture in 16 universities across Canada. In the club's six-year history, they have had participation from more than 1000 student volunteers throughout Canada, raised more than $440,000 through their tutoring program, visited 11 communities in Latin America and constructed 14 different schools, community centers and community gardens.
"It's just a simple idea that started as something really small," said Overholt. "It's amazing how many people have become involved and who have wanted to give back. What starts as somebody wanting to get a better mark on an exam can mushroom into 20 years of education in a small rural community, and that’s pretty awesome."
Overholt and the staff at Students Offering Support are always on the lookout for motivated student leaders to start up a chapter at their university or college.
"There is so much opportunity for other students to do something like this on their campus," he noted. "This is a chance to make a really meaningful impact in a short period of time which is pretty cool."
To get more information about Students Offering Support or to start up a chapter at your university or college, visit www.studentsofferingsupport.ca.
Students Offering Support