COLUMBIA — Doughnuts and bagels greeted smiling new MU students who were all bent on serving the Columbia community Saturday morning at the 10th annual Step Forward Day.
The students met at Tiger Plaza. Lauren Wainscott and Kassidy Hannah, both freshmen, were among the approximately 400 students waiting to board idling school buses. These buses would transport them to 11 service sites around Columbia.
The two agreed they couldn't stop themselves from helping others. This is not new for them. In high school, Wainscott volunteered with the Assistance League. Hannah assisted Joplin residents last year with disaster relief after the city was devastated by a powerful tornado in May 2011.
Other MU students found ways to help, too. MU senior Trevor Peters cleaned kennel cages with six freshmen at Columbia Second Chance animal rescue. He volunteered as a Step Forward Day site leader because it allowed him to participate in an event designed to introduce incoming freshmen to the Columbia area by providing service to the community.
The MU Center for Leadership Development began the Step Forward Day as an opportunity for freshmen and new students "to learn about and participate in community service projects," according to the center's website.
Nine organizations at 11 sites received student volunteers including: the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, the Boone County Historical Society, the Columbia Public Works Department, Columbia Second Chance animal rescue and five others.
Despite the 8 a.m. start on a Saturday, there was no grumbling among the students.
One group of students assisted the Columbia Public Works Department with cleaning Douglass Park. Freshmen Bryan Oldham and Brian Zhao filled their orange plastic bags with cigarette butts, discarded plastic and other debris.
"I'm from a small town and we never had community service projects, so it's nice to help out in a bigger community," Oldham said.
Columbia resident Courtney Lawhorn watched appreciatively as Oldham, Zhao and a dozen other volunteers fanned out across the park.
"I've been coming to this park for 30 years. I was raised here. I try to clean it up myself, you know, but it's difficult," Lawhorn said. "I just love to see the volunteers come out. It's a good thing, you know, especially for the kids who come and play. It's good that they have some place clean, some place safe."
More than 20 miles away, MU students carried gravel in a wheelbarrow, worked their shovels into the ground and hauled heavy wooden platforms from one field to another at the Columbia Second Chance dog ranch in Jamestown.
Rustic conditions did little to dampen the lively conversation that could be heard wherever the students worked.
"These students are fabulous," said Valerie Chiffin, executive director of Columbia Second Chance, a privately funded animal rescue operation. "In one morning, they're doing a couple of months of work."
Freshmen Megan Hill and McKenzie Ewigman took turns tossing a ball with an airborne hound named Satchmo, who soaked himself in a little plastic pool between rounds.
Ewigman said she expects to volunteer throughout her freshman year. Hill said she found the work rewarding because she knows it will help these dogs be adopted into a new home.
But for the moment, the students and the dogs seemed to simply appreciate each others' company and a pleasant afternoon.
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