WATERVILLE — Madison Louis and Amanda Lavigueur believe that volunteering is one of the most important things you can do in life.

The director and associate director, respectively, of the Colby College Volunteer Center, the women started volunteering as teenagers in high school, organizing charity events and baking food for a women’s shelter.

Now they lead the student-run volunteer center, which on Saturday will host the college’s largest annual volunteering event — Colby Cares Day.

More than 300 students, staff members, administrators and faculty members will go from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to 30 sites in Waterville and beyond to help organize food and clothes for the needy; clean up museums, playgrounds, parks and trails; and devise art projects for children.

The 17th annual event is a way not only to help those in need, but also to strengthen bonds between Colby and the community, according to Louis and Lavigueur.

“We’re going to L.C. Bates Museum, Maine Children’s Home, Quarry Road Recreation Area, North East Dream Center and Salvation Army,” Louis said, naming a few sites.

The Colby football team will help with a South End neighborhood cleanup, the soccer team will clean Redington Museum, the outing club will perform trail work and the hockey team will help out at Hart-to-Hart Farm, an education and dairy center in Albion.

Most participants are Colby students, but the center this year encouraged administrators and staff and faculty members to get involved, according to Louis.

The volunteer center organizes volunteer projects year-round. If an elderly person needs a lawn cleaned up, for instance, he or she may call the volunteer center at 859-4150 or e-mail [email protected]

“If anybody does have small projects they need help with, we’re always available,” Louis said. “We have community members call us. We’re always open for that. We have a new program called ‘Good Deed of the Week.’ We want to give students the opportunity to volunteer on a more regular basis.”

Volunteering has become a way of life for Louis and Lavigueur, both 21.

A global studies and French major, Louis, of Wellesley, Mass., helped coach Waterville youth soccer and volunteered at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter when she was a freshman.

Then, as part of spring break one year, she went to New York City with a group of students who volunteered at soup kitchens and food pantries.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” she said. “That trip really changed the way I viewed volunteering.”

When you are a volunteer, you are in no way better or superior to the person you are helping, she said.

“It’s an equal playing field. As much as you put into the playing field, you’re going to get out of it.”

In 2011, the volunteer center raised $15,000 for the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and launched an awareness campaign about homelessness, inviting speakers, hosting an art display and organizing other activities.

Then-center director Dana Roberts, now a Colby graduate, contributed a stone bench, which bears her name, to the homeless shelter. The volunteer center also has a bench at the shelter displaying its name.

Louis said it’s nice to walk into the shelter, where she still volunteers Mondays, and see the benches.

“We left our mark, so to speak,” she said.

Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, said Colby students volunteer thousands of hours at the shelter.

“It’s priceless,” Palmer said Sunday. “Sometimes we have 17 to 20 (homeless) children here in the evening. The Colby students play with them. They read to them. They come in the morning and help with breakfast. They sort donations, they clean — there’s not anything Colby doesn’t do here.”

They also take care of children so their parents can go to night school. Homeless mothers who get new jobs need to have day care, so Colby students fill in where needed, according to Palmer.

“It’s a huge void when the Colby students leave for the summer,” she said.

Lavigueur, an economics and environmental policy major from Hudson, N.H., said volunteering helped expand her horizons and get her out of the college campus bubble.

“I think it’s been a tremendous experience,” she said. “It’s a different dynamic, being out in the community.”

Students who come to the center seeking to volunteer find they have many options to choose from, Lavigueur said.

“Our program has expanded exponentially in the last year,” she said. “I think there’s some way for everyone to get involved.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]