Day of Caring – Connecting with Community Enhances New Student Experience

Caring Painting

For 28 years, new students at Evergreen have had the opportunity to participate in a day of service. Five years ago, it evolved into a collaboration with United Way of Thurston County’s Day of Caring.

This year however, Day of Caring was included in the new student orientation experience and more than 600 new Greeners volunteered their time to 26 different service projects. Students chose to work on campus beatification and restoration projects, or shuttle into the community to work with local organizations that fight hunger and homelessness, support immigrant learners, restore salmon habitats and ecosystems, engage youth, and more.

“Connecting with our community is one of the most inspiring experiences for new Greeners,” says Ellen Shortt Sanchez, director of Evergreen’s Center for Community Based Learning and Action. “Students may be new to the area or newly connecting to their home town as a college student, and get to see real-life ways to make a difference with their education.”

At the Thurston County Food Bank, a group of students helped customers select food items and re-stocked the shelves.

“This is a great way to expose students to local community, and to educate them on what we do, how we do it, and why we do it,” says Judy Jones, operations manager for the food bank’s client services center.

Jones also expressed gratitude to Evergreen for being a longtime community partner, even outside Day of Caring. Students have been a part of work study, building community gardens, and more.

“We are volunteer-run and could not accomplish what we do every year without partnerships like the one we have with Evergreen,” says Jones. “Our mission is to eliminate hunger in Thurston County, and our strategy is neighbor-to-neighbor. Evergreen has been an excellent neighbor.”

Additional community partners for Day of Caring included Nisqually Land Trust, Pear Blossom Shelter, CIELO Latino Empowerment, and Sidewalk Homeless Services.

Back on campus, Scott Morgan, director of sustainability at Evergreen, led a group of students to a part of campus that’s rarely seen: the roof of the library, where a 9-kilowatt array of solar panels helps keep Evergreen green. Together the group cleaned pollen, moss, and bird droppings off the panels.

Morgan is grateful the college has introduced Day of Caring to a larger student body this year. “When people work together, it only takes about five minutes before barriers are broken down,” he says. “Working together is one of the easiest ways to create a sense of community and a sense of ownership.”

Student Laurel Sheufelt came to Evergreen from Alaska, and chose to volunteer with the solar panel group because of her interest in renewable energy initiatives. She hopes to study environmental science, history, and sustainability while at Evergreen, but noted that she has an open mind about where her studies will lead her.

 “It’s important to meet people and know the programs at Evergreen,” Sheufelt says. “It’s all about the connections and relationships you develop. It will help me decide what type of learning is best for me.”

Another student, Dylan Nuckles-Flinn, from Bellingham, is studying political science and ecology, and was excited for the chance to work directly with solar panels and his peers. “Evergreen is really focused on public service, and this opportunity helps people get started and know what their options are on campus and in the community,” he says.

Fun fact: For nearly two years, campus food-service provider Aramark has partnered with the Thurston County Food Bank as a distribution point. A food bank representative picks up frozen bagels and dry goods from Einstein’s and the Marketplace to share with community members who need it most.