First-year students of Goshen College continued the tradition of taking a day to go out into the community and serve on Wednesday, Sept. 21. This event has occurred for several consecutive years, allowing Goshen to build stronger connections to organizations in the community by returning to the sites year after year.
Some of the groups Goshen students aided were La Casa, The Boys and Girls Club, Soup of Success, Habitat for Humanity, Greencroft, Pathways Retreat Center, Mennonite Central Committee, as well as cleaning parts of the Elkhart River.
This year, Student Life handed over the coordination of the service day to Alumni and Career Networks, so much of the planning for the day fell to Dan Koop Liechty, the director of the department.
“There are a myriad of goals for the students and their leaders,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest is to provide meaningful service for a charitable organization in our community. Other goals include instilling a sense of service in our student body, teaching them the importance of service in the college’s ethos and bonding each section of ICC (Identity, Culture and Community) together as a strong learning community.”
Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy, chose to return to the Elkhart River Restoration Project for the third year in a row. Graber Miller says he likes returning there partly because fellow faculty members Val Hershberger and Jewel Lehman also work with that organization.
“The work is absolutely exhausting,” he said about the five hour, six-mile canoe ride. Throughout the day, the students collected plenty of garbage out of the river, including 760 pounds of unrecyclable metal scrap, six bags of plastic and aluminum recycling, four bicycles, two shopping carts, a toilet and much more.
Graber Miller also remarked on the satisfaction felt upon reaching their end site with a canoe full of trash. He enjoyed watching students have fun out on the water while participating in an event which had immediately recognizable results.
Beth Martin Birky, professor of english and women and gender studies, placed her ICC class at the Mennonite Relief Sale, where they helped set up for the then upcoming weekend. Martin Birky remarked on how much more relaxed her students looked as they helped each other set up for the Mennonite Central Committee fundraiser than they did at the orientation weekend several weeks ago. Students were talking and laughing about nonacademic, silly things and getting to know each other much better.
“This day fit perfectly with the reading we were doing about interfaith dialogue (Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel),” said Birky. “Service is the common thread he identifies across many different religious traditions. One way to span our differences is to work together toward common goals. Community Engagement Day did that.”
Another group went to Greencroft, led by Duane Stoltzfus, to interact with Goshen College’s elderly neighbors. Much of the day was spent talking to the residents, listening to their stories and going on walks to spend quality time with them.
Siana Emery, a first-year in this group, said that she enjoyed the time spent with the older generation.
“There were a lot of interesting stories that they had to share,” she said. “But some were also difficult to hear.”
One of her most memorable encounters was with Ruth Gunden, an alumna and pivotal character in starting women’s athletics not only at Goshen College but throughout the Midwest during the 1950’s. Goshen’s gymnasium is dedicated in her name. Emery enjoyed learning about the college’s history from a firsthand source.
Community Engagement Day was added to a growing number of successful service events strengthening the Elkhart County community. It allowed first-year students an opportunity to become more familiar with their new city and provide meaningful assistance to the space they live in. Beverly Lapp, the ICC coordinator, has been a main organizer of these service days in past years.
“Service takes a lot of initiative and some willingness to push through uncertainty,” she said. “I think the moments we break through our comfortable routines and make a personal connection, or see a needed task accomplished, are some of the best moments of a day like this.”