August 30, 2011

A group of first-year students made blankets for the Linus Project during the inaugural Day of Service.

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. - First-year student Michelle John and two of her hall mates spent their first Saturday at Bucknell University giving back to the community they just joined.

The group cut out caterpillar-shaped name tags and created other crafts to decorate the Donald L. Heiter Community Center in Lewisburg.

"It's not dreadful hard labor," John said. "But you take a little time and know it's going to be appreciated."

More than 300 members of  the Class of 2015 participated in the inaugural First Day of Service, an event to introduce the newest Bucknellians to volunteering opportunities close to campus and get them engaged in outreach early on, said Janice Butler, director of the Office of Civic Engagement. Other students cut material from pillow cases and T-shirts for Dress a Girl Around the World, an organization that makes dresses for girls in developing countries; painted a mural at the Sunbury YMCA; helped out at New Berlin Heritage Days; or led children's activities at the Meadow View Housing Project in Lewisburg.

Continuing commitment
John, a Posse Scholar from Boston who plans to pursue a management major, said she was involved in community service during high school and wants to continue volunteering during her time at Bucknell.

"This was a good opportunity to keep going," she said.

Butler, whose office worked with more than 35 community organizations to coordinate service events, said the event is a good way for students to become involved early on and to connect with faculty and staff mentors outside the classroom.

"This is going to be their home for the next four years," Butler said. "This event allows them to find out what services are available and how they can get involved. I am thrilled that without much persuasion, we had so many students eager to sign up, understanding that this is part of the Bucknell experience."

Early engagement
The Civic Engagement office has organized days of service before in observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in January, but this is the first time an event has been focused on first-year students so early in their Bucknell careers, Butler said.

Dozens of faculty and staff members volunteered to help. After completing their service, the groups reflected on the challenges and rewards of their experiences, Butler said. They considered issues such as the role of educated citizens in the community and how service makes a difference.

"They can learn practical skills such as how to identify needs, alleviate problems, lead and motivate people and get things done," Butler said.

Lynn Pierson, assistant director of community service, said students were asked if they preferred manual or clerical labor, what time of the day worked best for them and whether they wanted to be indoors or outdoors. Many said they wanted to work with animals or children.

Making a difference
At the Sunbury YMCA, a staff member sketched out a sea-themed mural in the "kids' space" room and a group of students painted the sharks, mermaids, fish and coral and signed their names, said Ann Dzwonchyk, the program coordinator.

"Last spring, we had a construction project and redid the room, but it had white walls," Dzwonchyk said. "We wanted to make it more kid-friendly. They helped bring color and life to the room. When the kids came in Monday, they couldn't believe the transition."

"This is a great opportunity for students to understand another part of the community and some of the nonprofit needs," Pierson said.

First-year student Misha Patel of Easton, Pa., who plans to major in psychology, said she also was involved in her community during high school and wanted to continue volunteering at Bucknell. She spent Saturday organizing the basement of the Campus Theatre and cleaning the letters that are displayed on the marquis.

"Just knowing that my presence helped make someone's life easier made me feel better" Patel said. "I love to help people. We also got a tour of the entire theatre. It was awesome. The whole history behind it and how it has been restored is great for the community." || See Related Story

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