Nearly 200 UMSL students and employees spend last day of winter break serving others
There are many worthwhile ways to spend a holiday, with activities like sleeping in and not working among the most common endeavors. But for a crowd of University of Missouri–St. Louis students whose spring semester started on Tuesday, Monday was a “day on,” not one final day off.
After gathering bright and early on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the university’s ninth annual MLK Day of Service, small armies of volunteers soon dispersed to 12 locations throughout the St. Louis region to lend a hand in the community all morning.
One group of workers among the nearly 200 UMSL students, faculty and staff who participated found themselves bonding over colorful building blocks and tricycles.
Tasked with putting some final touches on a newly refurbished basement inside St. Ann Early Childhood Center, the team meticulously cleaned and organized countless toys that will populate an indoor play area aimed at fostering STEM and motor skills.
“They’re so kind, they’re so fun and they’re willing to do anything we ask,” said Anna Hook, director of the center, as she watched the volunteers help bring a much-anticipated, grant-funded project to fruition. Thanks to the UMSL group’s assistance earlier this week, she expected the basement space to be all set for its pint-size explorers before the end of January.
While cleaning a pile of plastic blocks with two new friends, junior business major Cassie Bianculli noted that part of the reason she joined the MLK Day of Service effort was to meet people – and that felt good along with the joy of lending a hand in the community.
“I’ve enjoyed hanging out with these ladies,” Bianculli said, smiling at two fellow students crouched with her around the toys. “I didn’t know them before today.”
Biochemistry and biotechnology major Jacob Delcoure said it was easy to decide to get involved again after first volunteering as a UMSL student last fall when he helped with the annual Trunk or Treat event – another regular effort organized by UMSL’s Students of Service.
“It feels rewarding that a small child is going to get an experience they might not have otherwise,” he said between moving buckets of disinfectant here and there.
Meanwhile, just a couple miles north, another UMSL crew spent the morning painting, cleaning and completing minor repairs at the Ferguson Youth Initiative, a volunteer-driven nonprofit founded in 2010. FYI’s Backbay in downtown Ferguson, Missouri, gets lots of use, and the space was due for some fresh attention, said Dwayne T. James, chair of the organization’s board of directors.
“Having the space spruced back up for the next round of students is wonderful – it really makes it bright and new,” he said. “And having students come in and give is always great.”
Armed with buckets of bright green and gray, the FYI volunteers transformed various surfaces within the facility – including the office of new FYI Executive Director Aaron M. Harris, who was also on hand during the morning.
He laughed when someone suggested one wall in the small room become “an accent wall,” expressing appreciation as the UMSL crew improved his workspace as well as the open areas where youth come for enrichment and to hang out and be themselves.
“If a better office will help him help his community better, that’s a great thing,” said UMSL senior and site leader Shaylah Roundtree, a member of UMSL’s Associated Black Collegians student organization.
For upperclassman Clarissa Reel, who transferred to UMSL from St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley last semester, kicking off her spring studies by lending a hand just made sense.
“I feel like one way to contribute is doing things like this, and I just believe in giving back,” Reel said. “That’s how you make things better.”
Mark Curry and Jen Nadler, both of whom work in UMSL’s Office of Student Financial Aid, helped out at FYI as well over the holiday. As a busy father of two, Curry called the Day of Service a rare chance to get out and volunteer.
Nadler, who recently joined the UMSL staff after returning from international service in the Peace Corps, grew up in north St. Louis County but hasn’t been back to work or serve in a long time, she said. She was glad to rekindle that north county connection over the holiday weekend as she dives deeper into her graduate studies in public policy administration at UMSL, too.
Several student volunteers pointed to the example of Martin Luther King Jr. as the main impetus for their involvement in the effort. Volunteerism is one key way to follow in King’s footsteps, freshman information systems major Temperance Williams said. Fellow freshman Julia Green, a media studies and English major at UMSL, echoed Williams.
“I believe Dr. King wanted us to serve other people, especially when they need it most,” Green said while painting a railing bright blue in the St. Ann Catholic School building on Natural Bridge Road, just steps from UMSL’s campus.
Freshman mechanical engineering major Tim Bragg, one of UMSL’s Emerging Leaders alongside Green, said it’s efforts like the Day of Service that prompted him to participate in the Emerging Leaders program as an undergrad.
While the painting and patching of holes might seem minor, those are the sorts of tasks that can lift some weight off the shoulders of busy teachers and administrators, he said.
Jan McCausland, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade English at the school, has seen UMSL students help maintain the aging facility all four years she’s been on staff.
“These kids are amazing,” McCausland said. “They really take care of a lot that we just can’t get to, and they really do a great job of helping and cleaning it up and getting the building looking nice.”
With nearly 20 UMSL organizations and departments represented, the Day of Service was a success, with a total of 536 service hours contributed by the campus community, said Ashlee Roberts, assistant director of the Office of Student Involvement.
“We filled over 80 percent of our available spaces, despite the weather, which is often a deterrent for volunteers,” Roberts said. “I’m grateful that the inclement weather turned around beforehand, allowing us to host this event again and bring together students, staff, and community members to serve others. We’re very excited about next year, too, as we’ll celebrate our 10th annual MLK Day of Service.”
She added that along with many projects involving much-needed cleaning, painting and other maintenance work, other assignments varied widely.
“Some of our volunteers engaged with adults who have complex learning disabilities and associated disorders that challenge their social interactions,” Roberts said. “They prepared lunch with them through Pathways to Independence. And at the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center, we facilitated an educational black history program for the residents.”
In addition, UMSL groups helped prep Gateway Greening and EarthDance Organic Farm School for the spring planting season.
For more images of UMSL’s MLK Day of Service effort earlier this week, view the full album on Flickr.
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