November 27, 2012 | Chelsea Tanis

Each year, "service" auctions are held in the residence halls to support local non-profit organizations.

As of this November, senior Shawn Richardson has been in the Seminary Pond six times.

With a count this high, one might question whether Richardson actually enjoys wading through murky Calvin waters, but the Bolt-Heyns-Timmer residence hall assistant has a rational explanation for each frigid dip: three plunges were in pursuit of the Cold Knight Club’s golden towel. The other three were the result of successful service auctions. 

Every fall semester, each of the seven Calvin residence halls holds an auction to raise money for its assigned community partner: a local organization that the dorm supports with volunteers throughout the year. Students are asked to donate a “service,” such as a bathroom-cleaning, a homemade meal, a backrub during finals week or any number of creative gifts, on which their peers may later bid.

The goal is for each dorm to raise $2,000 for their partnership, and to help meet that number, dorm leaders offer radical incentives for each monetary mile marker. For instance, at $1,000, male R.A.’s shave their heads. At $1,700, all dorm leadership is required to take a late-night swim in the sem. pond. For the final incentive, which comes at $2,000, the residence hall receives extra open house hours (the time in which women can visit men’s side of the dorm and vice versa) during interim. BHT fell just shy of this goal, with around $1,800 raised in total.

Anyone, at any time during the auction, can pay five dollars to pie (that is, hit in the face with a paper plate full of whipped cream) a leader of their choosing in the name of charity.

 “My sophomore year, I was pied nine times,” said Richardson, “My shirt was ruined. After washing it, I could still smell the whipped cream from the pie. It was awful.”

“It’s for the children”

Before the auction begins, the dorm’s Community Partnership Coordinator (CPC), typically a sophomore resident, gives an overview of the partnership and how the proceeds for the auction will be used.

BHT’s partnership is with Schools of Hope, a Grand Rapids Dreams program that offers reading help to first-through-third graders in the Grand Rapids community. While many students from BHT volunteer each week to read with the children involved in Schools of Hope, the auctions were established as another way for them to show their support. 

“Our service auction shirts have the phrase ‘It’s for the children’ written on the front,” said Tera Dent, who has been the resident director in BHT for the past four years, “That way, we’re remembering what it’s for.”

Much of the money raised for Schools of Hope will be used to purchase books, pencils, pens and craft supplies—all the little costs that add up when serving multiple schools.

Laughter and the spirit of giving

Unlike most residence hall events, which take place in the basement, the service auctions are held in the lobby so that they will be “unavoidable,” according to Richardson.

“We want it to be a well-attended event—so crowded that you can’t even get through the lobby and have to stay, and buy something, hopefully.”

Though leadership begins setting up much earlier—baking, cleaning, and backing tables against walls to make space for residents and for the tarp that will eventually protect the lobby floor from whipped cream pies—the service auctions typically don’t begin until later in the evening. BHT’s auction started at 8 p.m., for instance, in place of their normal Thursday night study-break. Out of consideration for student attention spans, homework and light wallets, leaders work hard to make sure the auction moves quickly.

“We try to keep it under an hour and a half in duration because, after that, people are like, ‘No, I don’t want to buy anything. Stop yelling at me,’” said Richardson.

To keep residents entertained, the dorms ask students from Calvin’s Improv team to host the event. According to Richardson, there’s plenty of fodder for jokes based on the strange services that are put up for auction.

“People enjoy sitting and listening to Improv people, but then it’s also the stuff that we’re selling,” he said, “My favorite ones are purchasing for someone to be quiet for a day. Or there was one girl who said she’d make a Facebook status about you every day over interim. I usually auction off me drinking an energy drink as entertainment. I don’t drink any caffeine at all, so energy drinks affect me a lot.”

Last year, Dent, who was pregnant at the time, offered students the chance to be among the “First Residents to Meet Baby Dent.” This year, she donated a play-date with the baby.

“It gets students thinking about philanthropy and giving back to their community,” said Dent, “My hope is that it’ll prompt a good habit of donating.”

Once all the services have been sold, and leadership has warmed up from their dip in the pond, the dorm treasurer writes a check to Calvin’s Service-Learning Center, which, in turn, sends a check to the dorm partnership.

“We want to support our community partners,” said Hannah Bechtold, a Calvin senior and employee of the Service-Learning Center, “Investing time shows how much we care and value these organizations, but giving money—especially as college students—shows that as well.”  

Students start their bidding. (photo by Reid Petro)

The hosts.

Crossing off the items.


Cook Library Center


Grand Rapids Dreams




Oakdale Neighbors


Baxter Community Center


Roosevelt Park CRC


Supper House

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