Ann Bryant, Union College student chaplain and junior business major, gets excited when her peers have big ideas. "I want to start a tutoring program for refugees and immigrants in Lincoln who don't speak English," said senior Katie Carlson when she came to see Bryant in Campus Ministries recently. "And I want to kick it off during Project Impact next week."
Never mind the short notice, Bryant gave the idea an enthusiastic go-ahead. "We'll do it. How can we help you make this happen?" Bryant said.
Bryant and her team of fellow students are busy organizing and leading Project Impact the longest-running and highest participation collegiate community service event in the nation. On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 6 more than 750 volunteers are expected to show up at 8 a.m. ready to serve at more than 40 agencies in the college's annual service day. Over the past 26 years of Project Impact, 96,000 hours of volunteer service has been donated by Union College students and employees. An estimated 14,400 students have served 70 agencies throughout Lincoln.
Empowering students to carry out their ideas for service is the norm at Union College. Campus Ministries' dozens of programs—from religious services to wellness events and overseas mission activities to Project Impact—are entirely student-led. Bryant says giving other students the power to lead is one of her favorite parts of her job. "I get to delegate a lot. When I ask someone to lead a project and they worry about doing it correctly, I can tell them, 'It's all right. Do what you can and we'll figure out the best way to do it together.'"
Tasks planned for this year's Project Impact include cleaning at the Lincoln Children's Museum, organizing donations at Goodwill, construction on a Habitat for Humanity home, painting at KZUM community radio, cleaning vehicles for VITAL developmental services, reading to children at public libraries, and doing yard work at a Nebraska Family Services house of prayer. Many tasks students and faculty will take on are behind the scenes: volunteers will clean, pull weeds, do clerical work, paint playground equipment, and mulch flowerbeds around the city.
The spirit of volunteerism that has made this student-led event a success since 1981 continues throughout the year. Students who want to do more build upon a legacy of community involvement. Continuing service is being further emphasized this year through club participation in Project Impact; campus organizations like the Communications Club, the women's dorm resident assistants, the Associated Student Body officers, and the various sports teams are adopting projects of their own. The connections they make with local organizations during Project Impact are designed to lead to continued service opportunities throughout the year.
That is what Carlson's dream of a refugee and immigrant tutoring program, a partnership between the Lincoln Literacy Council, the Good Neighbor Center and Union's Humanities Division, is designed to do. Student volunteers hope to work with refugees at the Good Neighbor Center once a week through the school year and for years to come. Carlson is excited to get the program off the ground during Project Impact. "I found a way to help Lincoln's immigrant population, and I'm passionate about it. Union's Campus Ministries leaders are helping me make it happen."