Project Impact 2011: Thirty years of students learning the joy of service

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When Tyler Bissell’s team finished their assigned tasks at the Folsom Children’s Zoo, they went looking for more work at a residence where another team was still cleaning up a yard.

But the group noticed shoulder-high grass and weeds in front of a house across the street, so they quickly commandeered three lawn mowers and two weed whackers and set to work.

“The family who lived there just had a baby,” explained Bissell, a sophomore international rescue and relief major. “The other little kids had been begging their father to mow so they could play on their swing set. The surprised man thanked us over and over, and the kids did, too. The smiles on their faces made it all worth while.”

With a record 72 sites served by Project Impact this year, many students embraced the opportunity to do more.

More than 750 Union College students, employees and friends gathered under the clock tower on the cool, sunny morning of September 8 to kick off the 30th anniversary Project Impact, Union College’s annual community service day. Nebraska Senator Tony Fulton was on hand to read a special proclamation by the state legislature, as was Pastor Ted Wilson, president of Seventh-day Adventist world church, who also gave an evening talk at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Originally dubbed "Project BRUSH" (Beautifying Residences Using Student Help) in 1981, students used the annual service day to paint more than 100 homes in 10 years. Thirty years later, Project Impact provides a day off from classes so student can experience the joy of service by helping the agencies that serve the Lincoln community all year long.

“Project Impact is a great way to make new friends and get better acquainted with old friends,” said Andrew Stevens, a junior math education major, as he painted playground equipment at a local elementary school with Demion Dublin and Charles Tamay. “It’s a bonding experience and you create a special bond with everyone you’ve helped out. You feel good and have fun at the same time.”

“You see all these little kids out here watching us and smiling.” Dublin, an elementary education major, agreed. “It can’t get better than this, honestly.”

Vanessa Chavez, a junior health sciences major, helped create a gravel path and put up a fence at a shelter for teenage mothers. “I just think about the young mothers,” she explained. “If I were in that position or if I knew someone in that position, I would want some help like this. I think about how it will benefit them.”

Pastor Wilson spent the day weeding yards and setting fences. “I believe I was most impacted by the numbers of young people working together on a project,” he said. “We cleaned up some yards today, and when you have a number of people who focus on what they are supposed to do, it’s amazing how fast the job gets done. I think that’s a great analogy for how the church works. The eye is not the foot and the hand is not the ear. When we all work together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Lord can accomplish an enormous amount through us.”

Each year, more than 80 percent of the campus family participates in Project Impact, an event planned, coordinated and executed by students. Since its inception, an estimated 18,300 volunteers have impacted Lincoln with more than 115,000 hours of voluntary labor. According to available research, Project Impact is the longest running collegiate service day with the highest percentage of campus participants in the nation.

“I was amazed by how many people helped with all the planning and made Project Impact a success,” said Anna Coridan, a junior nursing major who coordinated the event along with Bernice Tumangkeng and Jayme Anderson. “It helped me, as a leader, to better understand the importance of team building and not taking too much on myself. An event like this would have never happened without the help of a great group of students.” 

“This demonstrates to leaders in the church that they can trust young people to organize things and don’t have to micromanage everything,” said Wilson after observing the student leaders in action. “The Lord has given them tremendous intellect and creativity. Give them the broad strokes and let them run with it.”

Union College took time at the evening meeting to honor those who helped establish the original Project Brush. Dr. Dean Hubbard, president of Union College in 1981, received an award for his part in launching Project BRUSH. He and his wife, Aleta, took the idea with them to Northwest Missouri State University where he served as president for 25 years, where Project BRUSH also continues. Union also honored Pastor Rich Carlson, Union College's vice president of spiritual life for providing consistent support to student leaders through the last 30 years.

“I couldn't ask for a better place to work,” said Carlson. “The fact that we are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Project Impact is a testament to the quality of our students at Union College who lead out and participate each year.”

Watch news coverage from Lincoln's CBS affiliate, KOLN channel 10.