I’m sure there are many young women like Dana Roberts in this world, but I’ve yet to meet one who rivals her compassion and dedication to those less fortunate.

I say this because Roberts, 21, is a Colby College senior and probably spends as much time on academics as she does helping children and homeless people.

I don’t know about you, but when I was in college, I barely had time for myself, let alone other people.

But Roberts’ whole college experience has been about discovering what she wants to do in life by learning it, hands-on.

When she was a sophomore, she started volunteering at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Ticonic Street and has been doing it ever since.

Now, she is spearheading a campaign to raise $10,000 for the shelter’s effort to construct a $2.8 million building on Colby Circle, north of downtown.

“Basically, we have 30 days to raise $10,000, which at this point seems a little overwhelming, but I know that with the awareness portion of this campaign, people will be compelled to support this financially,” Roberts said Monday.

She was sitting at a small table in the Colby Volunteer Center, where she is director. The center has more than 200 active members who do everything from tutoring local junior high school students to building homes for people in Nicaragua.

November is Homeless Awareness Month and Roberts and other volunteers set a goal to raise $10,000 for the homeless shelter in 30 days. Colby staff, students, businesses and campus organizations are helping raise money through a month-long schedule of activities. The campaign is called Breaking Ground, Rebuilding Lives.

An art reception, panel of experts discussing homelessness, T-shirts sale, can and bottle drive, concert and a comedy show are among the fundraising events — and all are open to the public.

Roberts is determined that she graduate from Colby in the spring having helped raise the $10,000.

“It’s so important for me to leave a long-term mark on the shelter,” she said. “To show that Colby students do care about this issue and prove that Waterville is a place that doesn’t let people’s lives completely crumble, but instead is there as a support system when crises happen.”

Roberts is a vibrant woman with long curly brown hair, blue eyes and enough energy for three people. When she talks about her work at the homeless shelter, she can’t seem to get her thoughts out fast enough. The shelter does not just provide a roof over one’s head, but a whole host of services that help people get back on their feet, she said.

“They help get apartments, they help with paperwork, financial aid, furniture, help with resumes, getting jobs — the list goes on. They’re really a support system which these people don’t have anywhere else.”

The fundraising campaign and effort to build a new shelter is about being a resource for people who really need it, she said.

“The shelter has a 10 percent repeat rate, so only 10 percent of the residents come back and need shelter. They’re putting people back on their feet,” she said.

Those who stay at the shelter are very much like you and me — and they just want to have someone care about them, she said. One woman, a 20-year-old with a child, stayed at the shelter and now is in college, she said. Through perseverance and hard work, she is turning her life around.

“You realize that their inner strength inspires our inner strength,” Roberts said.

An English major, Roberts acknowledges that when she first came to Colby from Connecticut, she didn’t know what she wanted to do in life. Joining the volunteer center led to an answer. As a sophomore, she was the center’s program leader, coordinating students volunteering at the homeless shelter. Then she moved on to become assistant director and this year, director.

“I think that it’s been, hands down, the most rewarding experience I’ve had at Colby,” she said. “I feel like I’ve learned so much more about myself and my interests and what I excel at.”

She is confident about what she will do when she leaves Colby.

“I would love to do something in charitable giving. I’m not sure if that would be in the nonprofit sector or in the private sector. But in 10 years, I want to be a nonprofit consultant. I want to take the skill set that I learned in the private sector and effect change inside nonprofit management.”

Roberts urges the public to come to events being held this month to raise money for the new shelter. The donation site is www.wepay.com/donate/27851, and the volunteer center website, including a calendar of fundraising events, is http://colbyvolunteercenter.wordpress.com.

“If people don’t want to donate through the Colby campaign, they can do it directly through the shelter,” she said. “The money will be for full construction and to fund it for two years.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 23 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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