Between laughs, jibes at coworkers, and gossiping, the sound of students hanging up phones was clear. For six weeks throughout the semester, students gathered in the Old Chapel to raise money for Castleton State College through the annual Phonathon, which started in the ’90s.
Armed with a stack of forms that describe the people they will be calling, students take their place at a cubby.
Over and over again, they introduce themselves and try to get the person on the other line talking by using the cues from the form, which include the majors, current jobs and when the person graduated from Castleton.
If Vy Manovill, who is in her first year of the Phonathon recognizes the name, she will write a note to the caller to say hi from her.
“It’s nice to give them something to reconnect with,” Manovill said. “The personal connection will give them a prodding.”
After the conversation is flowing, they ask for donations. A task that is not always easy, especially at dinner time.
“Let’s just say it’s uncomfortable,” Jordan Deschler said, recounting a story of how one caller asked if her parents ever told her not to call during dinnertime.
“How are we supposed to know when you’re eating,” co-worker Colleen Rupp replied to Dreschler’s story. “If we call during the day, you’re at work.”
Each caller is stationed in one of the 18 cubbies, though lately most of them are empty due to students being sick and needing to study for mid-terms.
Each cubby is decorated with a Castleton factsheet, a script, a paper describing where the money will go, the time zones in the United States and of course a phone and a stack of papers with the alumni phone numbers.
“It’s easy, kinda fun, and you get some interesting conversations,” Eric Hall said about the job. “It feels good to get money for the school.”
To keep students motivated, incentives like a dollar to get someone who has not donated before, are taped to the walls. Nearby the 2008 goal of $155,000 hangs next to the milestones.
As of March 20 when the Phonathon ended, the total raised was $150,000, double the amount collected in 2000 when fellow Alumni Office worker Elizabeth Garside began helping the fund-raiser. Donations are still expected through mail.
“The Phonathon is a good way for current students to have conversations with Alumni,” Garside said. “It also communicates to Alums what is going on here through a student caller.”
Although the student callers enjoy making the phone calls, they have found themselves in some uncomfortable conversations.
“I got 911 once,” Hall said. “It was awkward. I didn’t know what to say.”
Rupp and Cox had equally awkward calls.
“One guy thought I was his girlfriend,” she said.
“Someone died. My little heart just broke,” Cox said after hanging up one phone call. “I feel so bad now.”
Cox described one phone call where the alumnus had moved and changed numbers. A child picked up the phone and was making beeping sounds into it for several minutes. When the mother finally got the phone, she explained the person Cox was trying to reach had moved.
“We get a lot of hang ups. Sometimes they say something mean,” Rupp said.
“They make you feel like crap,” one coworker said.
“If you weren’t here, then I’d go home, hug my pillow and cry,” Karb joked.
Most agreed that it was best to call someone in the same field of study.
“You feel like it’s a life calling,” Cox said about talking to someone in education who works with emotionally disturbed children. “It makes you feel good.”
As Manovill goes around collecting the forms of people already called, she congratulates every one who receives even a $5 donation.
Janice Beach jumped up in victory after receiving a $100 donation on her first day, which also happened to be the last day of the Phonathon.
“I got a hundred bucks!”
“Woohoo! Good job,” Manovill exclaimed. “I’m glad you came today.”
The day that Rupp was acting as supervisor, she came by, picking up the forms that the callers had already filled out. She then sorted them into piles on a glass display of scissors used when the Old Chapel was part of a medical school.
“I haven’t looked at them until now,” Rupp said, “but they kinda do creep me out.”
It seems that the ghosts that are said to haunt the Old Chapel are quiet during the Phonathon hours – at least for most.
“The guy’s eyes move,” one of Rupp’s coworkers said of the portrait that hangs next to the cubbies.
The Old Chapel is now the home base of the Phonathon because it can stay set up for the six weeks of operation, according to Garside. When it was previously in the Formal Lounge of the Campus Center, they had to work around other meetings scheduled in the same room.
Manovill said she’s pleased with the effort of the students.
“I’m really impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of those who are the calling voices of Castleton,” Manovill said. “I’m psyched how those kids talk with folks. They are polite, engaging, and it seems to be a good experience for both parties.