He doesn’t remember what the commercial is for. Nor does he care. That’s just not what stands out about this particular 30-second television spot (much to the dismay of the advertising agency, no doubt). What does stand out is how one act of kindness – helping an overloaded mother off the bus, opening a door for a delivery man, holding the elevator for a complete stranger, pausing to let someone into traffic – can have a chain reaction. How, when we see other people looking out for one another, it inspires us to do the same.
“The message is that we’re all responsible for taking care of each other– and the more we see it happening, the more likely we are to do our part,” says Terrell Davis, who – as the student coordinator of the Peer Assistance Leaders (PAL) – has certainly done his part taking care of his fellow students. “That commercial embodies what PAL does.”
Under the PAL program, highly visible student volunteers in bright yellow jackets are out and about from 10 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. on Friday nights to help other college students get home safely – whether that means walking students home, getting them on the Cougar Shuttle or just being present to remind them to walk in groups and look out for each other.
“That’s my hope: That students see us doing what we do, and it makes them open to helping other students,” says Davis. “I want to give students the sense that this is a safe community because every single student is here to help and protect one another.”
This includes students from any of the area colleges: The PAL program is a collaborative effort between the College, The Citadel, Trident Technical College, Charleston Southern University and MUSC – and the 220 student volunteers that come from these institutions are rigorously trained by the City of Charleston police chief and work closely with the Charleston Police Department, as undercover officers are always close by.
“They always have our backs,” says Davis with a laugh. “It’s funny: You wouldn’t even get me to talk to the police when I came to the College. And now, thanks to the PAL program, I hang out with them every Friday night!”
He’s even planning on going into law enforcement after he graduates – with hopes of first attending the U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School and eventually joining the FBI. It’s a career path the business administration/accounting double major would have never dreamed of when he first arrived on campus as part of the SPECTRA Summer Transition Program for incoming multicultural and first-generation freshmen.
“I believe the only way you can learn about yourself and figure out what you want to do in life is to try do a variety of different things,” shrugs Davis, who has also worked in the College’s Absence Memo Office and has served as a counselor for SPECTRA students and as a liaison for the Charleston Community Coalition Committee. “I’m currently working with Public Safety, learning the business side of things – the rules and regulations that law enforcement has to abide by. It helps me get a better understanding of law to be sitting on both sides of the spectrum. I’m learning the ins and outs, and that helps me help the students.”
And there’s no telling how many students Davis has helped since he started volunteering with PAL in 2010.
“At that time, my vision at first was to help 100 students get home safely: If I put five students on the Cougar Shuttle, I would be happy,” recalls Davis, explaining that the 15-passenger van is free to all students, no matter where they live downtown, no questions asked. “To date, we’ve transported over 77,000 students on the Cougar Shuttle. We received a second shuttle this spring.”
You don’t get results like that without giving something up – and Davis himself gave up “a lot of time, a lot of sleep and parts of my social life” so that he could be out there patrolling the streets, promoting the program, educating students and speaking to other South Carolina schools interested in starting similar programs.
“When I’m not doing that,” he says, “I’m just a student trying to make his way.”
While he’s at it, of course, he’s helping other students make their way home.