Illinois State University Housing Services partnered with several volunteers to conduct House Calls. These are annual visits to residence hall rooms to ensure that students are adjusting properly to the start of the academic year.
For many students living in residence halls, this is their first time away from home. Volunteers let students know ahead of time about the check-ins to ensure that they are comfortable in their new home away from home.
House Calls were completed September 13–16 this fall semester.
Assistant Director of Residence Life Elizabeth Thomason has spent the last two years leading the House Calls program. She also oversees residential curriculum and the themed living-learning communities, helps organize Move In and Move Out, and advises the Association of Residence Halls.
“Our House Calls program has been happening for over ten years. Really, House Calls is a great time for students to see that staff across the University care,” Thomason said. “We have a pretty large residential population, and those students are some of the students that take advantage of resources on campus the most because they’re right here, and it’s really convenient for them to do so.”
Thomason said the House Calls program is a great opportunity for staff to learn who students are, what they’re dealing with, what their struggles are, and what the student experience is like.
For students, this program allows them to connect with volunteers that truly care about them.
“Each door you knock on, you’ll never know who you’re going to interact with inside, and the opportunities you have to impact students are really exciting. It’s also scary because you never know when you’re going to have somebody who’s just received bad news or who is going through a tough time,” Thomason said. “We have those, and there are some [instances that] we follow up within the moment and get the students some resources. There are other ones where we connect them to staff later. It’s just that continued care that we’re able to demonstrate beyond that one time we knock on their door.”
In 2020, the House Calls program did not occur because of the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the physical-distancing mandates in place on campus. Now, knowing that many students are vaccinated, Thomason said people felt safer participating in House Calls this fall.
To protect both students and volunteers during the check-ins, all staff and volunteers wore masks, and were encouraged to physically distance from the students answering their doors. To prevent the spread of the virus, all snacks handed out were prepackaged and volunteers were encouraged to frequently use hand sanitizer when visiting different floors.
“Having a year off House Calls and not doing it in 2020 made people excited for it to be back. COVID-19 is still out there, and so I think it did limit us in some ways in terms of the volume of volunteers that we got,” Thomason said. “The volunteers that we got were a mighty group. We still got it done, but moving forward, I would love to see more staff have the opportunity to volunteer in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable.”
Thomason went on to say that in her years of completing House Calls, she’s been paired with individuals from Milner Library, the Division of Student Affairs, Student Access and Accommodation Services, Dean of Students Office, University Police, and many more. She said it’s a great experience to witness a variety of individuals meeting students and sharing knowledge about Illinois State that allows students to get connected to leadership opportunities, jobs, student organizations, and academic resources.
The staff who volunteered were excited to connect with students, especially after a year of not being able to connect with them in the same way. A lot of volunteers for House Calls also assist with Move In, so there are familiar faces for students to connect with.
“To me, that shows that they’re not just volunteering to volunteer. They’re really volunteering to connect with students and help get students on the right path and making sure they’re successful at the University,” Thomason said.
Beyond House Calls, students living in residence halls also have access to a resident or community assistant who follows up with the student year-round on their college experience. Use University Housing Services for more information on House Calls.