First-year students set foot on campus one day, and the next, they stepped out in service to the local community.
For the first time, as part of their orientation program, some 300 EMU students with their orientation leaders spent Saturday, Aug. 28, volunteering at 17 non-profit organizations in and around Harrisonburg.
“It makes sense to me,” said student Terianne Kauffman from Paradise, Pa. “Mennonites believe that service is an important part of being a Christian, so why not start off the year [at EMU] with an experience like this.”
Ms. Kauffman and some 14 fellow students spent the afternoon stacking wood, pulling weeds and leveling gravel on a parking lot at the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center west of the city as part of the “Community Learning Day of Service.”
Before the students swarmed to area non-profits, they were hosted by and treated to lunch at a number of locally-owned restaurants. Transportation to and from assignments was provided by Harrisonburg Transit and EMU vans.
At Booksavers, student volunteers looked up donated books on the Internet to determine prices for the used volumes that in turn are sold at discount prices to raise funds for relief programs.
“I’ve never done this before, but it’s kinda fun,” said student Jason Hostetter of Harrisonburg, working next to fellow student Maggie Parker from Wichita, Kan. “I’m amazed at how many books they have here.”
Another student group assisted at a “fun festival” sponsored by Our Community Place on N. Main Street across from The Little Grill, a unique restaurant that operates as a worker-owned collective. The group helped make and serve food, did face painting, played volleyball and interacted with festival participants.
Some 15 students sorted through contributed toys and clothing at Mercy House’s thrift store, which helps raise money to support the homeless shelter.
Other students unloaded donated merchandise and sorted and priced clothing at the local Thrift Shop.
“I’ve never done this before (sorting clothes),” said student Kristi Kolb from Spring City, Pa. “I think it’s cool to help out in this way, and it benefits a lot of people in need. It’s interesting to see what people bring in,” she added.
“I think this gives freshman a better idea of the many different opportunities for service available in the local community,” said sophomore orientation leader Shannon Yoder from Harrisonburg. “If they are interested in getting involved in a certain project, they’ll know how to get in touch with the right people.”
The day began with welcoming speeches from Harrisonburg Vice-Mayor Rodney Eagle; Ron Copland, an Eastern Mennonite Seminary student and founder of The Little Grill restaurant; Adam Starks, a 2003 EMU graduate and manager of Panera Bread, which donated food to the event; and Sylvia Romero of the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Agency.
Deanna F. Durham, community learning coordinator at EMU, felt that the event was “successful,” adding: “We wanted students to realize from when they first arrive on campus that they are not coming just to a college campus, but to a real community that has both needs and opportunities for learning.”