First-year students and their professors branched out into the surrounding community last Wednesday for this year’s Community Engagement Day. 

As part of the requirement for the core class Identity, Culture and Community, each section of the class went to a different location where they volunteered their time in various ways.

Suzanne Ehst, director of Core curriculum and education professor, explained the importance of this experience for first-year students, particularly as it connects to the material they review in ICC. 

“As we talk about community and civic engagement, this day gives us a chance to get out there and actually experience the value of engaging productively in our local communities,” said Ehst.

Community Engagement Day is also a good opportunity for first-year students to get to know their peers and professors by spending a whole day with them outside of a formal class setting. 

According to Ehst, Community Engagement Day was previously a campus-wide service day but is now reserved for first-year students, partly because of this valuable bonding experience. 

Classes worked at various locations in Goshen and Elkhart, including LaCasa, Habitat for Humanity, The Window, Greencroft, Goshen Forestry, Pathways Retreat Center, Church Community Services and Wellfield Botanical Gardens. 

Ehst says that some locations have been used for many years, and “those ongoing partnerships are really beneficial.”

Volunteer work included various activities such as clearing invasive plant species, sorting items in food pantries, organizing tree deliveries, helping with chores, building houses, splitting logs and much more. 

Ehst noted seeing positive social media posts from a few of the service locations about Community Engagement Day, seeming to indicate a substantial impact by the students. 

First-year student Cal Swartzendruber, whose class went to Habitat for Humanity, says it was a worthwhile experience despite the intense manual labor involved. 

“Some people built the roof of a house, others cut wood for the attic part of the house, and we took out a door frame as well,” said Swartzendruber. 

Another first-year, Matthew Dyck, was busy doing outdoor work at the Pathways Retreat Center. 

“I think it was an important experience,” he said, “but in our case, it was really cold, so I would’ve rather done service inside.” He echoed Swartzendruber’s view that it was a valuable day. 

Both students also expressed their desire for a shorter service day that would leave them less exhausted to complete schoolwork afterward.

In contrast to previous years, last week’s Community Engagement Day was specifically scheduled to match the classes’ reading of “Monique and the Mango Rains.” 

The novel emphasizes GC’s core values of global citizenship and compassionate peacemaking through a story about a missionary and her friendship with a Malian midwife, which connects to the day’s service theme. 

“We want students to see early on that their undergraduate education is not just about building skills for their own future gain,” said Ehst. “We want students to also be exploring the types of civic engagement and social good that they will do as a result of their education.”