Ohio State University President Michael Drake speaks about the launch of the “GIVE back. GO forward.” program at Thompson Library on March 28. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | News Director

Ohio State announced on Tuesday it is joining the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s “GIVE back. GO forward.” community service program, along with three local nonprofit organizations.

The program provides volunteering opportunities to Ohioans 60 years of age or older, according to the Department of Higher Education. Those senior citizens who complete 100 or more hours of community service in the span of a year at any of the nonprofit locations will be given a voucher redeemable for three free undergraduate credit hours at OSU. They can choose to either use the voucher themselves, or give it to a fellow Ohio resident, such as college-aged grandchildren or relatives.

Community service hours can be accumulated at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and St. Stephen’s Community House. Representatives from each nonprofit spoke at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Thompson Library, joined by University President Michael Drake. Emphasis on community engagement was broadly mentioned by all speakers.

“We are a modern land-grant university and our goal has always been affordable and accessible education for the citizens in our region and beyond,” Drake said. “This new program advances our founding mission, while further connecting the university to the fabric of our community.”

Once earned, the three-credit-hour vouchers can be used for up to five years, but the Department of Higher Education touts other benefits to volunteering, including increased physical activity and a lower risk of depression. Ohio colleges such as Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College were among the first in the state to implement the program.

Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey said Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s goal for the program is to “encourage multi-generational interaction and help students in their pursuit of higher education.”

Matt Habash, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, said the organization has had success with past volunteers.

“Last year, we had 11,000 volunteers donate more than 62,000 hours of time,” he said. Habash added that the food bank distributed 68 million pounds of found — half of it fresh — and provided 150,000 meals a day.

“And we would not be a efficient as we were without the generous support and hard work of volunteers,” he said.

The enrollment of the program caps at 100 participants, and those wishing to apply must be residents of Franklin County and at least 60 years old.