Picture the scene: A biology professor hacking away at weeds while a nursing student mows the lawn nearby. Both are covered in dirt, talking, cleaning, and laughing. In close proximity, there is a staff member from the University Press holding a trash bag open while a student from the seminary loads it with litter. For the moment, these professors, staff members, and students overlook deadlines and papers that need to be graded in order to serve the community around their university. Such was the scene on September 14, 2017 as Andrews University held its first-ever Change Day, an event that brought the campus family together in order to give back to the public through acts of service.
During the early hours of the day, participants gathered at the campus mall under a blanket of thick fog to eat, pray, and select project sites. With approximately 70 service locations to choose from, individuals signed up for various tasks that ranged from painting, gardening, repairs, wood splitting, litter removal, organizing supplies, and helping in a career fair.
Building on the University’s mission to Seek Knowledge, Affirm Faith and Change the World, Provost Christon Arthur, hoped that students and employees would gain a newer sense of mission and service. “Change Day is important because it reminds us of the responsibility that we have to serve humanity,” said Arthur. “It also ensures that those who are in the community feel our presence and know that we care.”
Carlisle Sutton, Director of Community Engagement Integration and Services at Andrews stated that the day’s events embodied the institution’s mission to change the world. Sutton explained, “Change Day represented the expansion of Andrews University’s role in being an active agent in terms of connecting with individuals and organizations already engaged in building the community.” The occasion was also an integral part of ensuring that the university played a role in serving and partnering with community members. “We worked with Neighbor to Neighbor, United Way, and other churches and entities that add value to the community.”
Explaining why faculty and staff were strongly encouraged to be part of the day’s activities in contrast to students only, Sutton said, “Andrews is not just students; the presence of faculty and staff sends the message that no one is exempt from serving others.” He further explained, “Every level needs to be involved in service from the president to students. Everyone is called to serve …and it’s a part of Christianity.”
As a part of Change Day, the University also opened up its campus to juniors and seniors from public high schools in the area. The career fair saw more than 400 high school students stop at booths set up by various departments on campus. Organizers aimed to show the students career options they had once they graduated. The emphasis was not to promote Andrews University as a tertiary education choice, but rather to give young people a better understanding of what it would take to go into fields such as nursing, medical technology, or speech pathology. Sutton said, “At the end of the day, we are hoping that the exposure that they had to these career options would have broadened their knowledge and awareness of careers that are out there and hopefully transform their lives.”
Although all students did not participate in Change Day, many of those who gave their time saw great benefit in leaving the classrooms for one day and lending a helping hand. Nursing student Jake Knowlton said, “To go out into the community and help with whatever you can makes a difference.” Tatum Fowler, a second-year seminary student assisted in leading a cleanup crew to work at a site which once served as a school for children of color in the late 1800s. Reflecting on the biggest take away from Change Day, Fowler said, "This has made me realize how small things can make a big difference. Simply cleaning the yard made the building look so different." Sophomore Janelle RovelleQuartz looked forward to being a part of another Change Day. As for what impressed her most, she responded, “The amount of work we were able to get done in three hours and the determination of everyone was amazing.”
Members of the community were also impressed by the events of Change Day. Leigh Jones, Assistant to the Community Development Director for the city of Niles, expressed her gratitude for the help received from Andrews. “We are so appreciative for Andrews coming out and helping,” Jones said. “As a product of Andrews University and Adventist Education, I am extremely proud to see my people coming out and really affecting their neighboring communities.”
Considering subsequent events, organizers are looking forward to creating a climate of continuous service. The creation of that culture is supplemented with a Change Hub on the school’s website that gives students the opportunity to serve daily or weekly, locally or abroad. For example, programs such as the Human Empowerment Life Project (HELP) allows Andrews students to carry out literacy programs in the Benton Harbor, Michigan area schools every week. Sutton iterated, “Andrews University is not just seeking to change the world with one day; rather it’s a culture [of service and mission] that we’re trying to create.”
Felecia Datus obtained a Master's degree in communications at Andrews University, and she is passionate about mission work. She served as managing editor for Envision Magazine and is a contributing author at theprayingwoman.com.
Images courtesy of Felecia Datus.
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