A decade ago, representatives of Salisbury University’s Student Government Association (SGA) were inspired by a day-long community service project founded at Texas A&M University.
There, students took one day a year to help university neighbors with household chores such as cleaning garages, raking leaves and painting. It not only helped brighten the neighborhood, but it gave students and area residents a chance to connect in a positive way. SU’s SGA thought such a project could work in Salisbury, as well — and they were right.
SU held its first Big Event community cleanup day in spring 2005, garnering rave reviews from both students and neighbors. Last year, some 600 students participated, receiving a welcome from Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton and others. This Saturday, April 12, hundreds more are expected to take to the streets of Salisbury, rakes and trash barrels in hand, for the 10th annual installment.
The Big Event has proven so successful that in 2008, the SGA added a fall cleanup event, “I Love Salisbury.” It, too, attracts hundreds each year.
One might get the impression SU students really like cleaning up yards and picking up trash. In actuality, what they really enjoy doing is helping others. The University officially recognized this desire in 2010, establishing the SU Volunteer Center to better connect students with available community service opportunities. The response has been tremendous.
“Since the center opened, students have logged over 38,000 volunteer hours,” said Jennifer Dunn, Volunteer Center coordinator. “This fiscal year alone, we have had over 1,000 students sign up for volunteer opportunities through our website. They want to get out there, and they want to help. We’ve received excellent feedback from many of our community partners, as well. They value the students and the services they provide.”
One of those partners — out of more than 250 altogether — is the Salisbury Jaycees. Some 400 students volunteer with the organization each year to assist with community activities including an annual Christmas shopping opportunity for some 200 underprivileged children and the Treat Street safe Halloween trick-or-treating program.
“We absolutely could not host large-scale events like these without the help of SU students,” said Jaycees President Emily Nock. “We have a great relationship with the Volunteer Center and other groups on campus, and we always enjoy working with students at our major community projects.”
Many of those student organizations hold their own events to benefit the community and beyond. SU’s chapter of the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity, for example, recently held a drive to collect clothing for area homeless individuals served by Hope and Life Outreach Ministries (HALO). Last semester, SU’s Filipino American Cultural Association teamed with other student organizations to collect money to benefit typhoon recovery efforts in the Philippines.
Some of the most active philanthropic groups on campus are Greek fraternities and sororities, whose national charters often stress community service. Student-athletes contribute to SU’s volunteer efforts, from hosting special games to benefit cancer research to mentoring local elementary school students.
Other organizations, such as CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), have dedicated their efforts to helping those in need abroad. CRU recently partnered with the Global Aid Network (GAiN) to purchase and package over 40,000 meals of rice and beans to send to refugees in Syria, involving some 260 students and community members in the process.
“Our food packing event at Salisbury went incredibly well,” said Steve Baker, GAiN mobile events coordinator. “It was encouraging to see participation from multiple organizations as students representing 15 groups, including fraternities, clubs, campus ministries and athletics teams, helped us prepare meals. The Cru leadership did a fantastic job hosting the event. We look forward to more opportunities to partner with the SU community.”
SU’s volunteer commitment also extends to the classroom. Students in Paula Morris’ marketing and promotions classes, for example, choose area non-profit organizations to promote through fund- and awareness-raisers as part of their assignments each semester. The exercise provides exposure and funding (over $100,000, including in-kind services so far) for the non-profits and experience for the students.
Similarly, students in Eileen Gilheany’s Practice III Macro Social Work class each year concentrate on efforts that have included raising money for homeless veterans and underprivileged children, as well as creating a reading garden for children enrolled in Head Start programs.
These are just a handful of examples of the types of volunteer service that SU students spend an estimated 35,000 hours providing each year.
“Civic engagement is a pillar of an SU education,” said Dr. Dane Foust, vice president of student affairs. “Every year, thousands of students exemplify that dedication to service to Salisbury, Wicomico County, the Delmarva Peninsula and beyond. They are committed to making the world a better place, and I, for one, am glad they chose to start at SU.”
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.