COLUMBIA — “Who is ready to serve today?” Michelle Murphy asked an applauding, cheering crowd of MU students gathered at Tiger Plaza at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. They were there to participate in the 11th annual Step Forward Day.
Step Forward Day, normally geared toward freshman and new transfer students, is a volunteer event hosted annually by the Mizzou Center for Leadership & Service. The center provides a free breakfast, T-shirts with a special event logo and an opportunity for first-year students to learn more about the Columbia area as well as connect with other new students. About 17 different organizations participated in the event, putting the MU students to work on a variety of projects.
“We have a variety of different sites," said Murphy, senior coordinator of Mizzou Center for Leadership & Service.
Five of the agencies where students volunteered are new this year. The new agencies include the Truman Veterans Hospital, D&D Animal Sanctuary, Alzheimer’s Association, Heart of Missouri United Way and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.
“We have several projects with volunteers today,” said Leigh Britt, neighborhood services manager of City of Columbia, one of the service agents too.
Volunteers picked up litter in East Campus and worked on beautification projects, such as landscaping flower beds on the street, Britt said while she was waiting for her group of volunteers to get started.
Last year, 330 students participated in the event. The number of this year’s participants was still being counted, Murphy said.
“This is a big turn out,” said Alex Peltier, a sophomore majoring in math and math education who worked as a community service adviser during this year's event. “It is good to see that the Mizzou students care about their community.”
Ellise Verheyen is also a sophomore and service adviser, and she said she regretted missing Step Forward Day her freshman year.
“This is my first year available to do it,” she said. “I got up and jumped out of bed in ten minutes, and came over this morning."
Verheyen loves volunteering on projects and said she has done a lot of similar events in the past at her home and high school. “It is gonna be awesome for all these students to be out and explore their community,” she said.
At the intersection of Route B and Paris Road, Britt was clearing weeds with a group of students under the bright sun. The group was working on behalf of the city government.
Two groups would be working on “improving those beds...they will be breeding them, spreading some compost and also planting some new plants,” Britt said.
For some students, the experience was eye-opening. One of the volunteers, Naomi Sugimoto, is a sociology student from Japan. Sugimoto has been doing volunteer work in developing countries, such as India and Bangladesh. While this is her first week in the U.S., Sugimoto decided to take a chance to learn more about social service. Sugimoto said the program allows her to step out of the dorm and “communicate with local people off-campus,” which she finds both interesting and fun.
Brooke Shoopman participated in the beautification project simply to spend a meaningful weekend. “It’s a really good way to discipline yourself,” Shoopman said while she continued to dig up weeds, using a hand shovel.
MU Vice Chancellor Cathy Scroggs said in a speech before the volunteers left for their sites, “Service is a part of who we are.”
After a morning of physical labor, everyone left with a sense of satisfaction and the memory of a beautiful summer day early in their college lives.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.