Like many Union College students, Shelina Berglund, a senior from Idaho, will stop at nothing—even dumpster diving—if that’s what it takes to lend a hand. On Thursday, Sept. 9, Berglund will lead Project Impact, a day when more than 800 Union students and employees take a day out of classes and work to serve more than 50 sites throughout the Lincoln community service organizations.
Berglund experienced the spirit of service early on in her college life when she and her friends helped a woman move during the school year. “The lady only had a few empty boxes and we filled them in an hour. Looking around, it appeared nothing had been packed.” When Berglund asked if they could box anything else, the woman replied, “Oh, I didn’t want to take advantage of your help. I only planned for you to pack a few things and don’t have any more boxes.”
Disappointed, the students assured her that they were there to help for as long as needed. “This lady needed to do more packing and we needed more boxes,” said Berglund. “So we headed to a park and did what any reasonable person would: went dumpster diving. We returned with an ample supply of cardboard boxes and spent the rest of the day moving.”
The annual Project Impact event kindles the habit of service for students. “It provides connections for students interested in serving the community year round—which many do,” said Berglund. “We also focus on continuing relationships we’ve already built and supporting each other through service.”
The Lincoln community is familiar with Project Impact, and now many organizations schedule around the service day. “Organizations like El Centro de las Américas are pushing events back and putting off projects, waiting for Project Impact,” said Berglund. “We’ve worked with them before. They know we will do a great job.”
The Project Impact has been an annual event since 1981. Initially started to paint houses for the elderly and disabled in the Lincoln area, the event now focuses on serving community organizations that serve Lincoln all year long. Student participation is not required, yet every year approximately 85 percent of the student body volunteer their day off to mow lawns, repair walls, rake leaves, paint playgrounds, wash windows, serve food, build homes or whatever sweaty, grimy work needs to be done in the community.
An estimated 16,700 volunteers have impacted Lincoln with more than 107,000 hours of voluntary labor in the last 28 years. According to available research, it’s the longest running collegiate service day with the highest percentage of campus participants in the nation.