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Heller Service Corps: Where small acts of kindness create big impacts

From left: Barrett Taylor '21, Kristen Janes '21 and Andy Cockrell '23. Addison Smith '22 is at the desk behind glass.

Even if Barrett Taylor ’21 had not undergone 12 surgeries and procedures over her 21-year span of life, she’d likely still have a soft spot for volunteerism and children. Having gone through hospitalizations for brain surgery, thyroid problems, ear tubes, adenoids and more, she’s that much more attuned to the experience of children faced with hospital stays.

Barrett Taylor '21
Barrett Taylor ’21

Her experience is part of the reason she volunteers with Heller Service Corps and why the elementary education major serves as student director.

One of her favorite Heller projects is preparing stuffed animals that greet children upon being admitted to Prisma Health’s Children’s Hospital.

It’s a simple activity – removing scarves and tags from a thousand new donated plush toys to make them safe for the kids. But that’s the point, Taylor says.

Barrett Taylor '21 and Addison Smith '22
Barrett Taylor ’21 and Addison Smith ’22.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time to do something that will have a lasting impact on a child,” she says. “I think Furman students might feel nervous about the time commitment for volunteering, which makes complete sense. But we make it so easy and inclusive. Just walk in, no need to fill out an application, just find a cool project and start.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, major events like the Fall Festival have been shelved. The event typically draws 600 children to campus from underserved areas for a day filled with games, carnival food and fun.

With the resources at Heller, the goal this year is to reach children in other ways, like making crafts for kids at Children’s Hospital and packaging crayons they can take home once they are discharged.

“We are doing smaller, more intimate projects,” Taylor explains. “Every Thursday, we do a pop-up event where we write cards of appreciation for our public school teachers, firefighters and others.”

Taylor says the smaller, more manageable volunteer projects are meaningful not only for the children, but also for Furman students.

“I think the Furman bubble is very real,” Taylor says.

Doing something that doesn’t take a lot of time, whether it’s writing a quick note of thanks to the maintenance or custodial staff on campus or making encouragement bracelets for hospitalized children, gives students a chance to step back from classes and exams and focus on things outside of Furman.

Taylor says taking an active role in the larger community is important. For Taylor, who grew up in Greenville and is a product of the county’s public schools, she’s happy that Heller gives her a chance to give back to the community that gave so much to her.

For project inspiration, Taylor doesn’t need to go far.

Nancy Cooper and student
Nancy Cooper speaks with student volunteer Andrea Tucker ’24.

“There’s no one like Nancy Cooper,” she says of Heller Service Corps’ coordinator of volunteer services.

Known for her perfectly coiffed blond hair and eternal smile, Cooper has made an impression on Taylor and other volunteers at Heller.

“She’s one of those people you meet once in a lifetime and you remember them for the rest of your life,” Taylor says. “She thinks so deeply about the world around her, and she also thinks about how we can have the most impact on Greenville as we possibly can.”

This year, with students returning home before Thanksgiving break, the traditional Holiday Giving Tree has become the Blessings Tree. Look for paper leaves on six trees throughout campus that contain wish list items from various local agencies. Everyone on campus is invited to take a leaf from the tree, purchase the item and drop it off at the Heller office in Trone Student Center.

On top of the campus community-donated gifts, Heller has received $5,000 from an anonymous donor to purchase items for the agencies. Heller volunteers will distribute gifts before the break.

Taylor says it has never been easier to volunteer at Furman. For more inspiration, ideas and ways to give, contact Barrett Taylor at barrett.taylor@furman.edu, or Nancy Cooper at nancy.cooper@furman.edu.

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