More than 850 students gave up their Saturdays this past weekend to participate in the Fresh START Day of Service.
Fresh START (Students Taking an Active Role Today) is the largest day of service at Penn State, designed to engage freshmen and initiate change of campus students in the Penn State community.
Together, the students donated almost 3,500 hours of combined time to serving the community through projects ranging from planting trees to working with greyhounds to spending time with senior citizens, according to Tyler Doppelheuer, executive director of Fresh START.
“Being a freshman, I think it’s really important to get involved with the community, and there are opportunities here that I wouldn’t have had at my high school,” Catherine Rooney (freshman-communication sciences and disorders) said.
Doppelheuer (senior-community, environment and development) said Fresh START has multiple goals. It aims to provide students with a day where they can get out and serve their community, but it also aims to encourage students to continue being involved throughout their time at Penn State.
Additionally, he said it is a great way for new students to meet other people.
“It shows them that service is not going out and doing miserable grunt work under rough conditions,” Doppelheuer said. “Service can be fun.”
This year, the rain created logistical problems since the organizers had to buy ponchos for the students involved, and some of the sites would have been unsafe with lightning, Doppelheuer said.
Fortunately, the organizers were able to overcome the weather-related obstacles to still make the event a success, he said.
Students met at the HUB-Robeson Center in Alumni Hall for breakfast before leaving by bus to the places in the community where they would be completing service work. Upperclassmen, who volunteered to help lead the new students throughout the day, assisted them in playing games to get to know one another.
“I was a participant when I was a freshman, so I guess the new role for me would be a team leader,” Michelle J. Barnes (junior-elementary education) said. “I just like giving back to the community overall. It’s a passion of mine.”
The students were also shown several presentations about ways they can continue their involvement throughout their Penn State career.
Team Leader Gillian Wood (sophomore-criminology and sociology) said participating in Fresh START definitely brings students closer together.
“It’s a good way to get to know each other,” Wood said. “If you’re out in the rain pulling weeds, there’s no better bonding experience.”
Meghan Graham (freshman-kinesiology) said her group participated by cleaning St. Andrew's Church.
“It was rewarding,” Graham said. “We could actually see that we were making a difference with everything that we were doing.”