Volunteering in their new community

By Mike Piacentino

Volunteering in their new community

By Mike Piacentino
Nearly 100 University of Miami students participated in Orientation Outreach to assist the staff at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School prepare for the new school year.

With the ’Cane Kickoff orientation program winding down, Sunday’s lineup offered new students the chance to select from one of 14 “Experience Miami” off-campus excursions. Nearly 100 students opted to participate in Orientation Outreach, the University of Miami’s annual community service day that takes place at the start of the semester.

“You chose to make service a part of your ’Cane Kickoff experience; to start your time as a Miami Hurricane by giving back to your new community,” said Lindsey Woods, assistant director at the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, as she welcomed the group of first-year and transfer students to the day’s event.

Each year since 2017, the Butler Center has partnered with a different Miami-Dade school for its first service day of the academic year. This year’s project tackled a variety of painting needs at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, a 300-student school located in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.

“It is so meaningful to me that these UM students not only focus on their own education but also on supporting the education of younger students in their community,” said Cathy Williams, the school’s principal. “Having UM students here shows my own students that in order to reach their dreams, they have to put in the academic effort and be a respectful student and member of our community."

Group photoWhile most UM students split into pairs to apply a coat of teal paint to the school’s many classroom doors, other students took to the stairwells to freshen up the walls and railings. The remaining students touched up murals in the school’s hallways, hand-painted large welcome banners, or painted concrete parking stops in the staff parking lot using the school’s colors: green and yellow.

“Once these kids come back to school, I hope they will feel excited and joy in seeing these improvements,” said Victor Novara, a junior transfer student majoring in biology. “It doesn’t take much effort on our part but will make a huge difference in the lives of the students who go here.”

Most students who participated in the service day were involved in high school and wanted to continue their service while enrolled at UM.

“I wanted to get involved early,” said Emma Miller, a first-year student majoring in ecosystem science and Spanish. “It is especially important to me to serve the community’s education system because if you want to create positive change in this world, you have to spread knowledge in others about how to do so.”

Other students saw the event as an opportunity to not only give back to their new communities but also as a way to learn more about it.

“I don’t want to spend my college career in my room,” said Caitlin Wilson, a first-year psychology student. “Growing up in South Florida, I have seen the poverty in Miami and wanted to learn more about what causes it and help out where I can.”

In addition to the Butler Center’s administrative staff and 11 student employees who were on hand to help coordinate the service project, eight continuing students signed-up to serve as site leaders to organize each of the smaller groups of students.

Samantha Waddell, a senior majoring in marine science and biology, served as a site leader this year to add to her role as an Orientation Fellow. “I like getting to know new students and welcoming them to UM,” she said. “UM can be a bubble, so it is important to give back so that we can understand and hopefully address the needs of our community.”

It is no mistake that the Butler Center schedules its first service day of the year early in the semester. Woods says this event is designed to introduce students to their community in a unique and impactful way.

“We in Student Affairs and the Butler Center try to teach students the importance of a lifetime of service,” she added. “And we hope Orientation Outreach is just the beginning and inspires students to continue helping others.”

Students who would like to know more about volunteering in the local community – including about other upcoming service days hosted by the Butler Center – are encouraged to visit the Butler Center in room 204 of the Shalala Student Center or to contact the office at leadandserve@miami.edu.