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BUILDing a better community
Incoming GSU freshmen volunteer for civic groups
Build Photo for Web
Mallory Crow, of Woodstock, Ga., and Chanel Ranes, of Peachtree City, Ga., mix grout with paint while preparing it to be thrown out at the Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. The pair is working as a part of GSU's BUILD service-learning program for incoming freshmen. - photo by NICOLE WILEY/staff

    Mixing dusty grout with paint, moving furniture and otherwise reorganizing the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Statesboro was how a group of incoming Georgia Southern freshman made their first contribution to the community this week.
    The group of 40 students were participating in Project BUILD (Building Undergraduate Involvement and Leadership Development), a service-learning program for incoming GSU freshmen, said Dr. Todd Deal, director of Georgia Southern’s Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement.
    There are two sessions of BUILD, each with 40 participants. The first began Sunday and ends today. The second session begins Sunday and ends Aug. 5.
    Now in its fifth year, BUILD began as a vision of GSU’s vice president Dr. Teresa Thompson, who wanted to create a pre-enrollment program based on community leadership. The program has expanded from 40 participants in the one session it offered five years ago to the 80 students it sees annually now.
    The students are volunteering this week in Statesboro working on construction and painting projects for Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Kingdom Builders and Concerted Services, Deal said.
    “Their focus during the day is mainly serving the Statesboro community and making connections to the community that they’ll be a part of for the next four years,” he said.
    After spending their days helping out Statesboro, the students attend leadership training sessions in the evenings, stay in Georgia Southern’s residence halls and take part in social events. The program comes before the start of the new school year allowing incoming freshmen to get a preview of college life and make friendships before classes begin, Deal said.
    “I’m past the awkward stage,” said Gabby Jiovenetta, a student participant of BUILD from Lawrenceville, Ga. “I have people that I know and people that care about me. I’m starting off better than a lot of freshmen.”
    Five upperclassmen serve as co-leaders in the program, working on service projects with the group during the day and helping to lead the evening’s breakout leadership sessions.
    “The student leaders are essential to the success of the program,” Deal said. “Students will listen to students much more than they will listen to adults. It really emphasizes what has been said.”
    Ryan Keesee, of Paulding County, Ga., has served as a co-leader for the past two years and said that he has enjoyed watching how the students have grown over the week-long program.
    “It’s great for first year students to get involved with the program just because it helps them make friends and learn the importance of service learning,” he said.
    BUILD’s community service and leadership training have their academic benefits for students, as well, according to a recent study from GSU’s Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. The study found students who participate in BUILD have more success during their first semester of college.
     “For the last four years of BUILD, students when compared to the other freshman that didn’t participate had a fall semester grade point average half a point higher than the freshman class average,” Deal said.
    Deal added that the program also has its benefits for Statesboro. Participating in the volunteer projects at BUILD makes “students aware of the opportunities to serve in the Statesboro community,” he said.
    “They engage in community service projects and in other ways of serving the Statesboro community and the next part of that is that they, in turn, take their peers and friends outside of BUILD into the community,” Deal said.
    “The group that is here this week is just fantastic,” Deal said. “They are engaged and they work so hard. It’s one hundred degrees in Statesboro and they work as hard as they can go.”

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