During the past two weeks, 120 incoming Georgia Southern University freshmen did volunteer work for nine nonprofit agencies and six schools. Their tasks included moving furniture, digging a ditch, painting, boxing food at the Food Bank and accompanying foster children on a field trip.
It was all part of BUILD, a program of the university’s Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. Two separate one-week sessions, each with 60 student volunteers, took on projects Monday through Thursday. The sessions were styled as BUILD 1, July 21-25, and BUILD 2, July 28-Aug. 1.
This year, the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center near Portal received the largest contingent of workers, 26 every day for both weeks. The center is preparing to hold its third annual Willow Hill Festival, Aug. 31, and host a summer enrichment program for middle school students in 2014.
Wednesday, BUILD students painted two exterior walls of the center, the former Willow Hill School.
“This is a lot of fun,” said a somewhat paint-spattered Sarah Burns, 17, from Lawrenceville. “I enjoy going out into the community and getting really involved and getting dirty, as you can see, with just, like, yard work and stuff. All of these people are really great to work with, and you can tell they really have a heart for service.”
Burns arrives for college with a Lead Scholarship. Each year, Georgia Southern awards 40 of the one-time, $1,000 scholarships to incoming students who have demonstrated community service and school leadership. Burns has been doing service work since she was about 10, for Habitat for Humanity and the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home through her church and as a volunteer in the school system where her mother works.
Another BUILD student who is also a Lead recipient, Alec Joiner, 18, from Cordele, did volunteer work with 4-H and the Boy Scouts and has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He has built wheelchair ramps, installed acoustical tiles and done other construction and carpentry. On two mission trips with other members of his church, he helped build an orphanage in Costa Rica.
A few students had even started service work on behalf of Georgia Southern before coming to BUILD. Lexi Booth, 18, from Tifton, was one of just 10 who participated in the first extension of the GSU Alternative Break Trips program to include incoming freshmen. They arrived in Statesboro in early June and traveled to Kissimmee, Fla., to serve for four days at Give Kids the World, a resort for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Very varied work
The exterior painting was just one part of the BUILD work at Willow Hill. Inside, students painted a hallway, restrooms and few classrooms. They moved unneeded furniture to storage to make room for further renovations. Last week, students also did some landscaping. A few dug a trench to allow standing water to drain from the driveway.
Other agencies that received BUILD help included the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, Statesboro Food Bank, Statesboro Regional Sexual Assault Center, the Humane Society of Statesboro and Bulloch County, Habitat for Humanity, Safe Haven, the Averitt Center for the Arts and Fostering Bulloch.
At the Humane Society’s thrift store, ReTails, BUILD students arranged merchandise. At Habit for Humanity’s ReStore, the work reportedly involved pressure washing and painting of the building’s exterior. At Safe Haven, they cleaned out storage units. On behalf of Fostering Bulloch, students helped rebuild the office entrance and with a tiling project at the Wesley Foundation, then partnered with foster children for a trip through the GSU Center for Wildlife Education.
This year, for the first time, BUILD teams also helped some local grade schools prepare for Thursday’s start of classes. At Langston Chapel, Nevils, Brooklet, Portal and Sallie Zetterower elementary schools and Statesboro High School, the GSU volunteers unpacked boxes of books and helped teachers set up their classrooms, among other tasks.
“And it was awesome,” said Jodi Kennedy, the associate director of the GSU Office of Student Leadership. “The students loved it, and I do think they were a lot of help to the teachers.”
Program has grown
BUILD has grown steadily since its launch in 2006, notes Kennedy, who coordinates the program. That first year, there were just 40 students in a one-week session. They built two playhouses for Habitat for Humanity to auction as a fundraiser.
Although expanded to two sessions and 80 students in 2007, BUILD worked exclusively with Habitat for Humanity its first several years. Students constructed storage sheds for Habitat homes and later helped build actual houses.
This is the third year since BUILD expanded from just a construction program to offer a variety of work to different agencies. After 100 students took part in 2012, the program expanded yet again.
But Kennedy thinks 120 students in two sessions will be where it remains for a while.
“This is actually, I think, a good-sized group for us,” she said. “By the end of BUILD 2, we definitely have served the Statesboro community to where we’re kind of at a good stopping point.”
BUILD students are truly unpaid. In fact, they each pay a $150 fee to cover the cost of their meals and transportation. After serving while freshmen, a few former BUILD students who apply are accepted as BUILD leaders for following years. These older students have the option of being paid or receiving additional service credits.
Potential freshman volunteers have opportunities to sign up during orientation or even at recruiting days in their high schools.
The acronym stands for Building Undergraduate Involvement in Leadership Development. BUILD introduces service-minded students to organizations they may want to work with during their GSU experience, said Wendy Denton, the assistant director for service learning in the Office of Student Leadership.
“It’s kind of starting to be a reason to come to Georgia Southern,” Denton said. “For students that really want to have an impact in a community and continue doing the kinds of service they did in high school, they look for universities that are engaged with their community and have programs like this.”