16th Annual Service Day sends College Park Scholars into Maryland, DC communities

By Graham Bennie, Senior Editor, College Park Scholars

Seated in the Comcast Center early one Friday morning to eat breakfast and be welcomed to the University of Maryland and to the College Park Scholars living-learning program, first-year Scholars students watched the Impact video, which focuses on the idea that everyone can make a difference. Service Day is designed to demonstrate just that.

On August 29, 2011, roughly 800 Scholars students, joined by program faculty, administration, and student leaders, made their way into surrounding Maryland-DC communities for a day of volunteerism.

Scholars students were divided up into 27 different teams and sent out to their various service sites to complete projects ranging from clearing fallen trees and debris from the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to preparing meals, sorting clothing donations, and organizing a storage facility for programs run by Interfaith Works, a non-profit organization designed to help those living in poverty in and around Montgomery County, Md.

This year’s Service Day was as successful as ever, although it had its challenges. “Some of the sites in the community had more for us to do because of [Hurricane Irene], but some had to direct their attention to other issues rather than orienting a group of students from Scholars,” said Martha Baer Wilmes, Scholars associate director for Student affairs “We had to balance the value of the program to the community with what their immediate needs were.”

Many sites were still without power following the wind and rain of Hurricane Irene. Among these were two Prince George’s County Public Schools that closed down, forcing Arts Scholars to adapt their Service Day.

“Usually we go in and paint murals on some of the walls in the schools,” said Harold Burgess, director of Arts Scholars. “Our students paint the murals and at some point the school brings out some of the elementary school students and their faces just light up when they see it.”

Instead, this year Arts Scholars painted the murals on paper in the Cambridge Community Center. Burgess said the program is sorting out a date to go present the schools with their work.

An annual tradition at College Park Scholars, Service Day is at the heart of the program’s mission, and it continues to resonate with generations of new Scholars because it demonstrates to students that Scholars is not just about learning; it’s about living and learning, through service to your community, forging new friendships, and everything in between.

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