Each year, the Mercyhurst community celebrates its Mercy heritage and dedication to serving others through the Freshman Day of Service. This year the event took place on Aug. 21 as part of Welcome Week for the class of 2021.
There were 18 sites that the students and leaders volunteered at including Presque Isle beaches, the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home, Asbury Woods Nature Center, Bethany Outreach food pantry and the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network.
Each place was in need of various service projects that worked well for large groups like the iMU sections.
“I have never done any service with the environment before, so this was a completely new experience for me,” said Carolyn Lloyd, a freshman who cleaned up trash along the beaches of Presque Isle. “Cleaning the beach was hard work, but even that was fun with my group. The leaders kept our spirits high.”
One group of students worked with the East Bayfront Neighborhood Watch to pick up trash and clean up parks. The goal of cleaning up areas of higher crime and lower income is to influence the “broken window theory.”
This is the idea that an area that is well-kept is more likely to be treated with respect. Groups that assisted in outdoor or cleanup activities made a substantial impact in this way.
“It made me feel good and made me want to go out and do more to help the community,” said Austin Lencer, a freshman who helped the East Bayfront Neighborhood Watch.
Aside from cleanup work, other students engaged in service to the elderly, playing games, doing morning routines and providing much needed company to members of Brevillier Village, Spring Hills Senior Center or St. Mary’s Home.
Other unique places for volunteer work for the freshmen were painting indoors for Quality of Life and Multicultural Research Center, helping set up for ZooBoo with the Erie Zoo and working in the butterfly gardens and art areas of the Erie Art Gallery.
Many of these local Erie organizations are regular community partners with Mercyhurst. Some have worked with the university in the past and others have contacted Bethany Brun, coordinator of Service Learning, in need of a large project done that could be completed on Day of Service.
Brun has been a part of the Freshman Day of Service since she was a freshman, participating thereafter as a Laker Leader and coordinator.
On Freshman Day of Service alone, the university completed approximately 1,400 hours of service, with each student and faculty member giving two hours of service.
One hour of service work is equal to about $22 of hired labor (factoring in benefits and pay), bringing the savings in the Erie community to approximately $31,000 worth of expenses.
“Volunteering both short and long term is definitely worthwhile and makes a huge difference,” said Brun. “There is no way the staff members could have found the time themselves or the resources to hire workers to do something like this.”
As the only school in the Erie area to initiate a class service project as part of freshman orientation, Mercyhurst shows how the values of giving back in service are what the community wants to foster.
“We like to really immerse the freshmen and say, ‘This is who we are and this is important to us; let’s do this as a community,’” said Brun. “It shows that we take our tradition and history seriously.”
The Day of Service often draws freshmen back to continue to do service throughout the year, as Brun sees many come in search of opportunities to give back.
“It is important for freshmen to experience this during Welcome Week because right away it shows that Mercyhurst truly values service to others in the community,” said Lloyd. “It allows freshmen to get involved right away, which hopefully encourages them to continue serving in the next four years.”
Mercyhurst students of any age can continue this initiative of service as well with Service Learning and Beyond the Gates courses.
“Coming in earlier to find service as something you’re passionate about instead of something you have to do is always better,” Brun said. “Service opens your eyes to different types of environments and develops you as a well-rounded person as students go beyond our gates.”