Some 230 first-year and about 35 transfer students at Eastern Mennonite University spent Saturday afternoon, Aug. 27, learning about some of the 47 languages and cultures represented in the greater Harrisonburg area as part of their orientation to the campus and larger community.
Activities began with a welcome ceremony at Court Square Theater in downtown Harrisonburg that included comments from Harrisonburg mayor Larry Rogers and Vaunda Brown, coordinator of an International Festival held at Hillandale Park each September. Students then fanned out into the community in groups of 15-20 for the afternoon.
Representatives of more than 30 participating groups, agencies and churches gave information on their programs, shared personal stories of how they got involved, identified needs they see among the people they serve and talked about how students can get involved.
In extemporaneous remarks, Mayor Rogers commended the students for choosing EMU as their place to study, while noting that they will be "part of the greatest little city in the U.S." for the next while.
He invited interested students to sit in on city council meetings, which are open to the public, to see local government in action firsthand.
"I want you to be careful, to look out for your own safety while you’re here, Rogers said, "But I also expect each of you to be successful in your studies and whatever careers you choose."
Organizations that students visited ranged from the Salvation Army, Blacks Run Greenway and Harrisonburg Children’s Museum to Mercy House, Camp Still Meadows, Our Community Place and A World of Good: Gift and Thrift, Artisan’s Hope and Booksavers. Two groups joined a family reunion of one of the deacons of First Baptist Church in the Northeast neighborhood. EMU students were invited to get acquainted, eat and join the celebration.
EMU alumnus Steve Shenk, director of the Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center being developed west of Harrisonburg, told a student group stories of the Mennonites and Church of the Brethren precarious situation as pacifists during the Civil War period, noting that "the Shenandoah Valley became one of the most devastated areas of the South." He identified possible volunteer opportunities for students to get involved with the heritage project.
First-year student Emily Sims from Perkasie, Pa., said she "enjoyed being able to learn about Harrisonburg right at the outset," adding that "it’s easier to get to know people in the small group setting."
Student Joshua Mann, Suffolk, Va., echoed Sims’ sentiments, noting that the experience "put us outside the box, exposing us to new people and ideas that we can go back and talk about."
Photo by Emily Huffman
"We wanted students to get acquainted with the complexity of living here