Make-A-Difference Day Brings Together Students, Groups, Communities
On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, over 130 Whitman students, faculty and staff assembled in the Reid Ballroom to kick off 2012’s Make-A-Difference Day. Participants carried out 13 different community service projects around the Walla Walla community, ranging from planting riparian buffers along creeks and maintaining the playground area at a local elementary school to updating exhibits at the children’s museum and gardening for an elderly member of the community.
The projects were focused around seven elements of a healthy community, which were explained by Blue Mountain Community Foundation Director Lawson Knight, who spoke at the beginning of the event.
Make-A-Difference Day is a national day of service founded in 1993 that Whitman participates in every year. While last year the event occurred over Family Weekend and was scheduled in the afternoon, this year it occurred the week after and began at 8:30 a.m. Whitman’s new Community Service Coordinator Abby Juhasz organized the event with the help of the community service student interns.
“One of the things that I’m most excited about with Make-A-Difference Day is that yes, it’s a program that we at Whitman are doing, but it’s a national program, and so we’re working alongside potentially three million other volunteers around the nation to accomplish some really high-quality community service projects,” said Juhasz.
To prepare for the event, Juhasz solicited community organizations for project proposals and then reviewed the proposals to select the projects which best fit the needs of the community and the interests of students. Students were recruited via the community service listserv as well as through emails, word of mouth and the Whitman Facebook page. Many participants came in groups revolving around fraternities, women’s fraternities and interest houses. Sophomore Molly Emmett encouraged members of the Summer Community Outreach Excursion she led in August to do service together once again for Make-A-Difference Day.
“It’s good use of [students'] time on a Saturday morning, even if it’s going to be raining outside. That’ll kind of bring us together,” said Emmett. “It will still be a fun time because we’re working together and we’re doing something that’s good for the community and that we like to do.”
Emmett’s SCORE worked on repairing riparian buffers on streams, which falls into the environment category under the seven essential elements of a healthy community the event was based around. The other elements are health and wellness, education, economy, arts and culture, basic needs, and neighborhoods and communities.
Blue Mountain Community Foundation Director Lawson Knight gave a brief speech on the seven elements and social capital before volunteers dispersed to their various projects.
“[Social capital is about] being intentional about being in a relationship with other people and to always remind yourself, ‘I need to be thinking of other people,’” said Knight. “That can be really hard for shy people, but those connections to other people either through community service or other structures are so important.”
Knight included several interactions amongst audience members during his speech, asking listeners to take a moment to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know during a brief break partway through. Make-A-Difference Day provided opportunities for connections to form both between Whitman and the community and between clubs and individuals who volunteered their time together.
“You’re probably going to work with people you normally wouldn’t work with on a project,” said sophomore Melissa Shaffer. “You’ll also be able to see areas of Walla Walla that you might not know about [and] help different organizations that you might not have known about.”