Students volunteer for community over weekend

Thousands of GW students made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, painted houses, played with children and worked with the elderly Friday and Saturday as part of A Night to Give Back and Make a Difference Day.

A Night to Give Back

Despite a lack of celebrity guests and large door prizes at this year’s “A Night to Give Back” community service event, about 1,000 students gathered at the Marvin Center Friday to volunteer their time.

Last year the University hosted television stars from shows including “The Real World” and “Road Rules” and gave out two airline tickets to anywhere in the United States. This year’s potential speakers, including Ben Stein and Bobby Kennedy, turned down GW’s offers and prizes were cut back to chocolate pumpkins after organizers said they didn’t want to put as much time into soliciting companies.

About 100 fewer students participated this year, said Marvin Center Governing Board Chair Zack Beyer, who helped organize the event. He said the slight decrease is attributed to a lack of speakers and the campfire was moved indoors because of rain.

But Beyer said students were still attracted to the event because of its activities, free coffee and dessert at the Hippodrome and the chance to volunteer.

“Even though it’s a big event, many students don’t associate it as an annual thing at GW,” he said, explaining why students were not disappointed with the lack of speakers and prizes.

The night’s line-up included sandwich-making for homeless shelters, painting a mural in the Hippodrome, making crafts for needy children and the elderly and bowling for service organization Habitat for Humanity.

“Living in D.C., students get a lot from the city,” Beyer said. “It’s important to give back to the city every once in a while.”

The Marvin Center Governing Board, Class Council, Residence Hall Association, Neighbors Project and Habitat for Humanity, among others, sponsored the event.

About 600 members of the Greek-letter community raced around J Street from 8-8:30 p.m., making about 5,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, about 500 more than last year. The contest was a part of the community’s “Greek Week,” a festival with events like a date auction, skit and talent night and the “Greek Games.”

The sandwiches were donated to local food kitchens D.C. Central Kitchen, Martha’s Table and So Others Might Eat.

Although most fraternities and sororities did not require members to attend, many who did said the experience was worthwhile.

Freshman Bobby Cohan, a Kappa Sigma fraternity member, called the event “a lot of fun and a good way to bond with the brothers.”

MCGB Vice Chair Alice Lingo said she delivered the food by car to the charities Saturday, which took about seven hours.

She said food kitchen personnel were excited about the donations.

The Hippodrome also hosted mural-making, a new event this year. Senior Nicola Malik designed the mural, which features several service projects like students tutoring children and a stethoscope for the Public Health project.

It was made because of a “lack of artistic interest” on campus, and the mural will probably hang at the Marvin Center’s H Street entrance, said MCGB Vice President for Student Activities Ben Posner.

An all-night “Service Made Simple” of “five-minute crafts,” including picture frames for the My Sister’s Place battered women’s shelter, greeting cards for the elderly at Saint Mary’s Court retirement home and bracelets, took place in the Mark Abrams Great Hall.

Many students said they left “A Night to Give Back” knowing they can pursue other service projects around the District.

“It’s a time to make a bigger impact,” sophomore Jessica Glynn said. “Give a couple minutes and it all adds up. (Charity work) is going to bring a lot of smiles.”

“We see the homeless every day, even on campus,” said freshman Jodi Barrett, who works at the Office of Community Service. “We need to take responsibility.”

Make a Difference Day

About 100 students gathered as early as 8 a.m. Saturday at the Marvin Center for Make a Difference Day. About 160 students were expected to attend the events, but many people dropped out at the last minute or did not show up. Some students joined the groups later in the morning.

Make a Difference Day, a national annual event created by USA Weekend Magazine, has been celebrated in October for the past 12 years.

“Everything went really well,” said Neighbors Project Coordinator junior Stephanie Markoff. “I know it was an early morning for most of them, but they were all really happy to be there.”

The smaller turnout did not hinder the efforts or break the spirits of the volunteers.

“It turned out to be better that way because the groups themselves were all working well together,” Markoff said.

Members of the Neighbors Project, the largest community service initiative on campus, organized sites for GW students to participate in the event.

This year Markoff chose six sites where students would be able to contribute to the nationwide effort.

The day was created “so that people throughout the United States could start doing community service and understanding issues within their own community and outside their own community,” Markoff said.

Although tired from Friday night activities, students straggled in for their departure times from 8 to 10 a.m. in J Street.

“One Saturday doesn’t hurt me. Once I get there and see the kids, I’m going to be fine for the rest of the day,” said senior Chanel Haliburtion, who went to host a Special Olympics at For Love of Children Olympics near U Street.

“I was tired, but I made a commitment and I am going to go and do it. It’s to give back to the community. It’s a good opportunity and its fun. I figured by the time I get back on campus it will be about the time I would get up anyway,” said junior Klarisse Mathis, who also volunteered at the Olympics.

One group of students went to Watt’s Branch Park to plant trees for D.C. Parks and Recreation.

“It makes me feel kind of good to know that I helped a lot of people, especially at a park. It’s a public place. It belongs to everyone who wants to go there,” freshman Melanie Laputka said.

The groups worked through the morning and into the afternoon, planting six large trees and redeveloping the community area. Other groups from Georgetown and AmeriCorps helped at this site, also.

“A tree is something that keeps on growing – it’s always going to be there so someone else gets to enjoy it,” freshman Trinh Tran said.

Another group went to the Northwest Settlement House, a daycare center for 15 infants and school for 15 students. The group painted classrooms and reorganized closets.

“The walls haven’t been painted since . well, the teachers don’t even remember when,” said junior Jen Wilson, the group project leader and frequent volunteer at the site.

Although the changes are minor, school officials appreciate all of the students’ efforts.

“We have a small staff so we do rely a lot on volunteers,” said Takeia Bradley, Director of Social Services at the school.

School officials welcomed the changes that the volunteers made throughout the day.

“It might seem like a simple thing to have the walls painted a bright color, but it really does make a difference,” Board of Directors member Paula Miller said. “I think the environment is key. It helps the children’s self-respect and I know it helps how the teacher’s view their job.”

Student groups visited many other sites, including a food pantry, an organic farm and a nursing home.

Volunteer events pick up again during Volunteer Week, a seven-day program of opportunities, projects and speakers sponsored by the Office of Community Service Nov. 1-8.

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