|FEATURES Winter 2001|
Introducing first-year students to volunteering in the community, the Office of Student Activities sponsors a special event that helps students start the new semester on the right foot.
Saying goodbye to summer, first-year students say hello to a new academic yearto a new educational experience. Part of this experience is the opportunity to reach out to others during a day of community service. Taking place over Labor Day weekend, Service First is a campus-wide event that gives first-yervice in their liveear students an introduction to the importance of ss as members of the Washington University community.
The third annual Service First was held on Saturday, September 1, and brought together volunteers to help area elementary schools prepare for the new academic year. Participating were more than 750 students, including 650 first-year students, 30+ resident advisors (RAs), and some upper-class students who returned from previous years. More than 150 faculty and staff members, along with their spouses and children, helped throughout the day.
To start, nine teams loaded buses around 12:30 p.m. and headed to their destinations to spend the afternoon beautifying classrooms, libraries, and school grounds. At Mitchell Elementary, for example, WU students created a mural in the kindergarten class and cleaned the grounds, and at Froebel Elementary, students painted murals in the halls about good nutrition. At Hempstead, students painted maps on the playground and painted chairs, and at Patrick Henry, students painted the playground as well as covered 30 bulletin boards inside.
"The University supplies all the necessary materials, but the principals are essential partners in creating ideas to brighten their schools and engaging our students in conversation about their schools and neighborhood," says Stephanie Kurtzman, coordinator for women's programs and community service, and chair of Service First. "Some schools want us to touch up old murals, some want new murals, some want welcome-back bulletin boards, and some want outdoor work done.
"Last year at Clark Elementary, our students stuffed backpacks with school supplies, which were then given to each child as a welcome-back gift. The principal had worked with members of the community to get the backpacks and supplies donated. Our students were really touched by the community's commitment to the school," says Kurtzman. "Service First tries to teach our students something about the community in which they now live. If we at the University can do anything, we want to increase our students' level of sensitivity, knowledge, and awareness of what the St. Louis community is about and the resources it has to offer."
Delmar-Harvard Elementary is just north of the University. Here, WU students painted bear paws, spelling out the school's name, on the sidewalk that leads to the area where children line up every morning; room numbers were painted in bear paws as well. WU volunteers also painted fences, hung colorful kites in the hallways, and affixed labels to books to complete the bar-coding system in the library.
Victoria Gonzalez-Rubio, principal at Delmar-Harvard (K-5), says, "Our library was automated last year, but all the books still needed to be bar coded. It would have taken a long time for two or three people to do it, plus our children are too young to help. We placed 35 University students in the library, and they matched the titles to the bar-codes and affixed the labelsall in just a few hours. Now, we will be completely automated at the beginning of the year."
Spirit of Service
University students from all over the world come together to help these public schools in St. Louis. The experience creates a common bond among the students.
"In my high school, I did a lot of service and I miss doing it. My RA told me about this, so I signed up," says Barbara Moran, a first-year student from El Salvador. "Plus, I miss home and serving others helps fill that empty space. This is a good way to get started in a routine."
Ryan DePuit, a first-year student from Manlius, New York, says, "My RA told me about it, too, and I thought it would be a good idea to get involved in the community. Since I am not from anywhere around here, I thought it would be good to meet other students and learn about the neighborhood around campus."
Kurtzman says that one of the goals of the program is to encourage students to consider themselves part of the St. Louis community. "We want students to know that the St. Louis community gives something to us, so we have a duty to give something back," she says. "We also hope that this engages them in a lifetime of community service. Although we don't expect one day to be a life-changing experience, we hope it will be an introduction to the power of giving to others."
Brooke Bagnall, a junior from North Carolina and a resident advisor in DePuit's dormitory, served as a student leader this year. She had participated in Service First when she was a first-year student and has since volunteered with STONE Soup, a University group that helps feed the hungry in St. Louis. And she says that she would like to do more service projects in the future.
For students like Bagnall, DePuit, and Moranthose who want to make serving others a regular part of their college experienceService First provides them with information about many on- and off-campus service organizations. Returning to the South 40 in the evening after the day's work is finished, participants are invited to a barbecue and service fair.
"The barbecue is a celebration to bring everyone back together and to recognize the hard work they have done," says Kurtzman. "The community service fair is for the student who says: 'I had a great day; I want to do more. How can I?' We have it ready-made for them. The fair features our on-campus community service organizations and social justice groups, and more than 40 off-campus agencies."
The barbecue and service fair are a fitting end to a special daywhere everyone comes together in a spirit of community to celebrate a common purpose. The entire event, in fact, is a collaborative effort with support coming from many on- and off-campus groups and companies. Such support confirms a belief in WU students and in the area public schools.
Through their volunteer efforts, the students achieve something specialbrightening elementary schools and helping create happy, healthy learning environments for many children. And by engaging students in community issues and guiding them toward a lifetime of responsible citizenship, the University hopes the benefits will go even further.
"We want students to know that the St. Louis community gives something to us, so we have a duty to give something back," says Stephanie Kurtzman.