COLUMBIA — Long lines of volunteers stood under the scorching sun at Tiger Plaza, waiting for their turn to check in and kick off the 13th annual Step Forward Day on Saturday morning.
“The number of people increased by a lot. Last year, I didn’t have to wait in a line really,” MU student Brandon Spink said.
Step Forward Day, an MU tradition, offers freshmen and transfer students an opportunity to do community service. This year, 409 volunteers were assigned to 16 groups to serve 14 agencies, including the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, D&D Animal Sanctuary and UCP Heartland Child Development Center.
Student Lauren Magarino spent the day at the D&D Animal Sanctuary, cleaning cages under the hot sun. She was expecting an indoor shelter but found that the sanctuary is more like a farm and is home to a wide variety of animals, including a tiger.
Despite the heat and the mess, she was positive and laughing about the experience.
"Oh, it was really awesome," she said. "It was a really good experience."
Nearly 80 more students participated in the event this year compared to 2013. Organizer Alyssa Bilyeu was part of a group of students who promoted the event, aimed partially at getting Residential Life staff more involved in community service.
“We had an official partnership with Residential Life this year, partially because Residential Life wanted to have their community advisers do more service,” said Bilyeu, a graduate assistant for Leadership & Service.
MU's Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said that an emphasis was placed on involving first-year students to let them know that organizations in Columbia needed help.
"I think for these students, they're new to university and new to Columbia, and I think we want them to start off their semester realizing that they have an opportunity to give back," she said.
Residential Life's community advisers such as MU student Melody Myers were required to participate in this year's event. The junior is no stranger to service; she volunteered at the Boys & Girls Clubs' previous Step Forward Day and is thinking about minoring in public service.
“I really like sitting down, talking to different people. You never know what you will learn by talking to them,” she said.
Truman Veterans' Hospital welcomed Myers and 13 other volunteers. This year, volunteers sat at tables with patients, staring at bingo boards and listening for numbers to be called out.
Patient Roger Kent Arrowsmith beamed after his student partner yelled "bingo!" He leaned forward and took a bite of his doughnut and a sip of his coffee.
The hospital "is alive a little bit,” Arrowsmith said, still smiling.
“I think they are great; they are awesome,” said Erin Carr, a recreational therapist at the hospital. “Hopefully we can get them back again and again."
Supervising editor is Seth Klamann.