Record-breaking Project Impact celebrates 25 years of community service

"Can we come back sometime and do more?" asked Matthew Johnson, senior chemistry major at Union College while repainting a group home. Questions like Johnson's echoed across the city as over 900 volunteers at more than 50 agencies celebrated the 25th anniversary of Project Impact, Union College's annual community service day. The spirit of volunteerism that has made the event a success since 1981 continues throughout the year. Students who want to do more build upon a legacy of community involvement.

Project Impact primarily serves those who serve the needs of the Lincoln community by doing the odd jobs that non-profit organizations don't have the man power to keep up with. "We wouldn't have this many working on a huge project like that without Project Impact's help," said Renee Cohen, volunteer relations coordinator at Goodwill, where students sorted piles of clothing donated to the organization.

Partner sites included caring for the feet of the homeless at the Matt Talbot Soup Kitchen, distributing fliers and posters for the Alzheimer's Association and reading to children at public libraries. Most sites have less contact with the end recipients of the services. Students and faculty cleaned, sorted, pulled weeds, mulched flower beds and did clerical work behind the scenes. These aren't the sort of activities that give volunteers touching stories of having directly affected someone's life.

Sometimes the the lack of a touching story is the greatest story of all. "I don't know what to tell you," said Tyler Henry, junior exercise science major at Union College. "I pulled weeds for a few hours, nothing too special." Yet Henry, with feet and legs caked in mud, exhausted on a 95 degree day, was ready to do more. According to Justin Okimi, assistant chaplain, that's what Project Impact is about, serving because Union College is a part of a community, serving for the sake of being servants.

This year, students and employees of the college have already done more. For the 25th anniversary, the activities expanded from a half day to a full day of work, adding a special urban renewal project in two of Lincoln's poorest neighborhoods in the afternoon. Groups from Union, joined by about 120 workers from Lincoln Action Program, painted over graffiti, picked up litter, weeded and disposed of garbage for residents of the Clinton and Hartley neighborhoods.

"It was amazing to see so many students stay through the afternoon," said Jesse Proctor, senior business administration major and neighborhood revitalization coordinator, "They went out, finished up projects and came back looking for more ways to help. Everyone worked harder and longer than we could have hoped for."

At supper time, the college provided a barbecue for volunteers and local residents at Peter Pan Park in north central Lincoln. Later in the evening, Jose Rojas, director of the Office of Volunteer Ministries for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, urged the students to continue building upon the experience they had during Project Impact, and shared the role volunteers have played in his life. Rojas had worked along side Union College volunteers during the day and said, "I have never felt so proud of a group of students as I did today."

For more about Project Impact, read the Lincoln Journal-Star's coverage of the day here (PDF).