More than 2,300 freshmen, upperclassmen and faculty bused to sites across the D.C. area Sunday to clean parks and paint schools in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
This year, the annual service event focused on the President’s Interfaith Service and Community Service Campus Challenge, a national call for unity among different religions through volunteer work.
Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement, said more than 240 colleges nationwide mobilized to “reflect on what religious tradition means to them in a service-oriented context.”
After this “first introduction” to service, Cohen said 70 percent of GW students volunteer or intern.
Participants visited different locations, including Ketcham Elementary School and Ballou Senior High School in Southeast D.C., as well as the Anacostia Watershed at Fort Dupont Park.
At Ballou Senior High School, students painted murals, planted flower beds in the greenhouse and cataloged more than 1,000 library materials to fill the newly refurbished learning resource center.
Rebecca Blank, acting secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said 9/11 gave the event at Ballou “an edge.”
“It is a wonderful time to come together as a community, not just with GW students, but with the rest of the country,” she said.
Ruth Jones, director of resource development at Ballou, said the school honors parents and families who lost their lives in the attacks.
“Your service isn’t about today, it’s a movement that will continue tomorrow,” Jones said.
Jones said the high school was formerly known as a “drop-out factory,” but the school has improved by an aggressive development campaign to revitalize the building and academics. “The ‘New Ballou’ has increased its graduation rates, raised over a billion dollars and is launching a campaign for alumni,” Jones said.
Provost Steven Lerman said the combined event offered both practical value from volunteer work and a sense of symbolism.
Freshman Hailey Pulman, who helped paint a mural, said, “It was nice to have the whole freshman class together.”
Alongside University President Steven Knapp and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, students painted commemorative murals in classrooms and hallways. A group of students also pulled weeds near the front and side of the school, located on 15th street in southeast D.C.
“The only way that communities like Washington, D.C. and schools can be successful is through volunteerism,” LaHood said. “GW volunteers show that they are grateful to be in D.C.”
Knapp said the enthusiasm of student volunteers was inspiring.
“This shows that there is a generation of students committed to service,” Knapp said.
Student site leader Marissa Tarulli hopes that the event inspires freshmen to commit to community service.
“Not each and every student will continue, but if one or two are inspired into a career of public service then it’s a huge impact,” the sophomore said.