As part of the new student orientation for Warren Wilson College last week, over 330 volunteers from the college served at 18 Buncombe County nonprofit organizations. Service Day introduces new students to their ongoing Community Engagement Commitment, a requirement for graduation that requires years of sustained community service work.
“I think [the Community Engagement Commitment] is really great, and I also like that it’s not just a one-time thing. Today we’ve just started, and then we get to come back at different parts of the year with our first-year class,” Bella Cimeno ’22 said.
“Yeah, it didn’t feel like a one-time thing, because it’s not a one-time thing – we’ll continue to serve there,” Beatrice Feay ’22 added.
Cimeno and Feay are freshmen in Dr. Lucy Lawrence’s first-year seminar “Human Rights in Motion Pictures.” For Service Day, the class worked at Mountain Area Residential Facilities, Incorporated, a nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Western North Carolina. The class will return to serve at the organization several times throughout the semester as part of the course’s curriculum.
“It was really rewarding, really fun. It was definitely something I hadn’t ever done before, in volunteering. […] We got to meet some cool people who live there, move some stuff around, help them out in a whole bunch of different ways,”Feay said.
This integration of service work into first-year seminar courses for new freshmen forms a partnership that continues throughout the year. College leaders hope that these partnerships give participating nonprofit community members consistency and reliable volunteers and give Warren Wilson students lasting relationships that strengthen their investment in the local community.
Every year, Warren Wilson College students contribute over 50,000 service hours to local nonprofit organizations. Community engagement and service learning are fully integrated into the college’s curriculum. First-year seminar courses and the service partnerships they maintain throughout every student’s first semester are only the first of four “Points of Engagement and Growth” in the Community Engagement Commitment, a requirement for graduation that follows students through all four years at the college.
Service Day is the first of many community engagement events that the college organizes throughout the year, ranging from service-integrated courses and recurring service trips with local community partners, to break trips that sometimes involve travel to other states or countries.
This year, many Service Day projects centered around issues of food security and education, but others branched out to other issue areas, depending on the focus of the associated first-year seminar course. The 18 locations in Buncombe County included six early-childhood education, elementary, and middle schools; seven community gardens, food pantries, and food security outreach nonprofit organizations; Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center; Mountain Area Residential Facilities; RiverLink; South Asheville Cemetery; and St. James Episcopal Church.
“Service Day is only the beginning,” Director of the Center for Community Engagement Shuli Archer told the students gathered for a reflection at Warren Wilson College afterward. “Folks in the field of service learning are quick to say that one day of service projects is not a best practice. What is a best practice is extended engagement. And that is what you all are doing through your first-year seminar classes and through your work with the Center for Community Engagement. The power of this day is that it isn’t just the day, but it is your entire Wilson experience.”
Warren Wilson College is a vibrant, independent college with an innovative curriculum that purposefully integrates the liberal arts with community engagement and work experiences to prepare students for not only professional success, but also a life of meaning.