Clad in navy T-shirts, Georgia College’s 1,450 first-year students spread throughout Millegeville and Baldwin County on a recent Saturday for the university’s first-ever “GC GIVES Day.”
It was a massive chessboard with a myriad of pieces and players—all moving, interacting and ultimately helping the town and community that will be their home for the next four years.
Simultaneously, students provided charity work at more than 40 different locations for various civic organizations, nonprofits, schools, churches and nursing homes. The donated labor had an estimated economic impact of $111,000. Plus, it gave students early insight beyond the classroom, introducing them to an integral part of Georgia College life: community engagement and service.
Students shoveled dirt for a new water-supply trench at Lockerly Arboretum. They served ice cream and played BINGO with veterans at the Georgia War Veterans’ Home. They did make-up and nails for elderly residents at Savannah Court Retirement Residence. They packed school supplies at the Boys and Girls Club Baldwin Unit. They guided horses carrying children with special needs. They painted gazebos, spread pine-straw and mulch, pulled weeds, pressure-washed buildings, cleared debris and picked up trash along city streets.
“One of the foundational pieces of liberal arts is connecting students to their future and to the broader society and the broader community,” said Dr. Shawn Brooks, new vice president of student affairs. “We’re trying to create informed citizens who really care about the world and the society they’re about to move into. One of the best ways to do that is by providing exposure to the community that houses the institution. This is their new home, so we want to connect students to Milledgeville and to Baldwin County.”
“The rationale of doing it in this particular moment is to get freshmen to start thinking of this as a way of life at the university. This is what it means to be a college student here. We give back. We are servant leaders,” he said.
One-third of all students currently track service hours at Georgia College. Administrators hope that number will increase as students who’ve never volunteered discover the satisfaction of helping others.
Georgia College partnered with Keep Milledgeville/Baldwin Beautiful (KMBB) to find service sites, supplies and transportation for so many at once. The entire county got involved – from government and civic organizations like parks and recreation and to area churches, schools and retail stores. Some projects were as small as 30 volunteers. Others were larger – with the biggest group of 120 students going to the Georgia War Veteran’s Home.
Other universities have community-service days that students sign up for. But few put an entire freshmen class to work.
“This is probably the largest day of service that Baldwin County has ever seen,” said Kendall Stiles, senior director of community engagement at Georgia College’s GIVE Center. “This is a very unique and large undertaking that many schools have not tackled. We’re making history here as well as starting a new tradition at Georgia College.”
Bobby Falcone of Fayetteville is a new marketing major. Other than helping out at his church, Falcone hadn’t done much previous community service. But he didn’t mind picking up sticks and pinecones outside Savannah Court Retirement Residence on Marshall Road.
“It does feel good,” Falcone said, “because some of these people don’t get a lot of company all the time, so it’s nice to be able to come visit them.”
Tracy McGoy, residence relations coordinator at Savannah Court, said volunteers come regularly but groups aren’t as big as the 20 freshmen from Georgia College. In addition to lawn work, they played BINGO with the elderly and took “glamour shots” of women, after applying their make-up and painting nails. One elderly woman was so happy to see the students—she did a little dance.
“It is wonderful,” McCoy said. “We really appreciate them coming to our community, because some of our residents have no family members that visit. So, it’s actually fun to have someone come interact with them.”
Merritt Holcomb of Columbus is majoring in English and creative writing. As a new student, there’d already been a few busy days packing up and moving in. But as soon as the day began and she saw her new friends, Holcomb perked up.
“The mood kind of picked up a little bit more, and when I heard we were going to a nursing home, I got really excited,” she said. “I really like old people. I like talking to them and hearing their stories. When they told us we were doing their nails and their make-up, I got really excited, because I’m a little girly.”
They’d never had so many volunteers at once at the Georgia War Veterans’ Home either. Teresa Barnes has worked there 20 years, organizing recreation and activities. About 120 students served ice cream and cake, played BINGO with the vets and helped out in the garden.
Abby Chalker of Vidalia is majoring in pre-nursing. She was happy when she learned they’d be going to the veteran’s home. Chalker has a lot of war vets in her family.
She sat next to a lively Vietnam War Veteran, Zackey Sanders, waiting for BINGO to begin.
“I love it,” Sanders said. “We appreciate it when Georgia College students come. They help us out, and we love it.”
At Lockerly Arboretum, another big group of 120 students worked up a sweat. In addition to spreading mulch and moving potted plants, they shoveled dirt and built a trench for the property’s new water system. Adrian Williams said the project was big for him and two other maintenance workers.
“It’s great to have them here,” Williams said. “This is a big space. With all the things that need to be done? It’s a lot. It’s nice to have the help. It’s wonderful.”
Thomas Johs of Sandersville is majoring in business. He didn’t mind getting up to help out.
“It’s great,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead and leaning on his shovel. “I’m excited to be out here, especially helping out the community and making a positive impact here in Milledgeville.”