On Saturday, Aug. 18, new UF students headed out into the community to complete 56 service projects in partnership with area nonprofit agencies and organizations.
This marks the 10th time that the University has coordinated this type of project for new students during orientation weekend. According to Crystal Weitz, director of the Campus Compact Center for Service and Learning, students, faculty, staff and other volunteers contributed 2,040 hours of service to the community – in just two three-hour shifts.
Anna Dorf, admissions transfer adviser and repeat orientation weekend volunteer, was a project leader both in the morning and afternoon. In the morning, one group helped facilitate a fun Olympic-themed activity at Primrose Retirement Community. Students ran the events and interacted with residents. In the afternoon, Dorf and her group helped Harvest International Ministries Church prepare an adjacent house to serve as a distribution center for items such as clothing and appliances. Dorf’s group was the second University group to work on the property that day.
“I love being a project leader because it gives me, as a staff member, an opportunity to connect with students … interact and build relationships with them in an environment off campus,” said Dorf.
Jill DeLaCruz, project coordinator at the church, also enjoyed the experience. “It was a blessing to have them in and help us tackle that job,” she said. “It was a very positive experience … It’s wonderful the University welcomes the students like that because they do get to know the community and what’s going on.”
Elizabeth Kniss participated as a first-year student in the group and is thankful to the University for providing opportunities to help the community as a class. “Making the house look nice and knowing that I played a part in helping to start the business is what I enjoyed most about the experience. It also was great getting to know other freshmen in my group and completing the project as a team,” she said.
Kristie Pohlman, marketing and recruitment assistant, experienced the weekend both as a first-time project leader and first-time orientation weekend volunteer. Pohlman led a group assigned to help Teddy’s Rescue manage an adoption event on Tiffin Avenue. Students were assigned in pairs to care for and answer questions about one dog that needed a home; 20 students were part of the group. “It was a great experience,” said Pohlman. “I didn’t know what to expect … it was satisfying to me to be able to show off what great new students we have here and how we all work as a family.”
Three adoptions resulted from the event, and project coordinator Susan Mompher of Teddy’s Rescue was enthusiastic about having the students’ help. “It was a lot of fun; they did a great job; and I can’t wait to do it again next year,” she said. “I think it’s a great program. I would encourage other people to sign up for these students. They were wonderful.”
As Weitz and the planning team reflect on how the orientation service projects have evolved during the course of 10 years, several goals carry through. According to Weitz, goals of the projects are to introduce first-year students to each other and to community members and for first-year students to serve the community and learn about the assets and challenges of their new home town.
“Crystal [Weitz] has fine-tuned the planning process for this huge event to a science,” said Diana Montague, Ph.D., professor of communication, who has been involved with the project from the very beginning.
Montague remembers utilizing University vans to get everyone where they needed to be; now, school buses offer much more convenient and efficient transportation options. She also recalls the frustration of not being able to get in touch with drivers when needed because not everyone carried a cell phone then.
Now, every agency supervisor, project leader, bus driver and student volunteer can be reached within seconds by phone or radio. In addition to things running more smoothly now, the University is able to help more organizations complete projects. A decade ago, groups completed approximately 30 projects; this year, they completed nearly 60.
For more information on becoming involved with new-student orientation service projects, contact Weitz at email@example.com or 419-434-6671.