Tina Brown stands at the glass doors of the Adventure Science Center early Monday and peers into the empty parking lot. The center’s director of operations, Brown is anxious for the promised 25 pairs of hands to paint the loading dock, clean chairs and refurbish the picnic area.
“This is our slow time of year, so it is a great time to clean up, and we don’t have many on staff to get the many jobs done,” Brown said. “And this is a time to introduce Belmont students to the Center’s volunteer program and get them to come back and help with science-related areas in the future.”
Some 1,800 Belmont University students volunteered in their new hometown at 32 local non-profit organizations, including Adventure Science Center, 14 Metro Nashville Public Schools, Y-CAP YMCA and Feed the Children, as part of SERVE on Monday.
“Service is an expression of our mission and a call to share with others our God-given talents,” said Associate Dean of Students Becky Spurlock. “Here it is not just the act of service, but the ‘why’ we do it. Belmont University empowers men and women to engage and transform the world. The University prepares students to use their intellectual skills, creativity and faith to meet the challenges and opportunities that face the human community.”
Mayor Sends Students to Service Projects
Incoming freshmen and transfer students began their fourth day of Welcome Week with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher at 8:30 a.m. in the Curb Event Center Arena.
“The people of Nashville are thrilled that you are here. Thank you for the energy and excitement you bring to our city,” Dean said, commending students for embarking on service projects at public schools and in the environment.
An annual Welcome Week tradition for more than a decade, SERVE provides a perfect tie into Belmont’s ongoing commitment to engage students in their community and encourage the values of service on both a local and global level.
“Today is one of the days I am most proud of at Belmont. The message we like to share with our incoming students is that you were created with talents, gifts and abilities so that you can serve someone else,” Fisher said. “This is a day where before you do anything else at Belmont, you go out and serve.”
Soon hundreds of new students wearing white T-shirts that read “Explore. Embrace. Engage.” file out of the arena, pass the University’s iconic bell tower and line sidewalks of Belmont Boulevard and the Acklen Avenue circle to board dozens of motor coaches heading to various parts of Davidson County.
Tradition Makes Nashville a Classroom
Before the first day of fall semester classes, new students are initiated into Belmont’s culture with a two-hour service project that makes the city of Nashville their classroom for the day. At East Literature Magnet School on Gallatin Avenue, freshman Benjamin Johnson gets off a motor coach and eagerly grabs a trash bag and latex gloves for his first lesson.
“Belmont is about more than self. It is about looking for ways to help the community where we are learning and to give back,” said Johnson, of Meridian, Miss., who collected trash and removed debris behind the public school stadium. He said he was drawn to the University to study commercial music and now will look for opportunities to volunteer playing cello and teaching music education to children during his four years in Nashville.
“We appreciate Belmont University bringing these hard-working students to our schools to help us make our campuses look their best. We look forward to outstanding Belmont education majors returning to our schools as teachers in four years,” said MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register.
Service Fosters Friendships
At the nearby YCAP YMCA, the first lesson of college was in friendship for incoming freshmen Bridgett Davies and Jessie Wynn. In a small closet of the gymnasium and recreation center that serves at-risk youth, they sanitized toys and organized games and sports supplies. An hour later between giggles, they realized they grew up an hour apart from each other in Illinois.
“(SERVE) is a good way to get to know the (Nashville) community better and your classmates when you have been here for only a few days,” said Davies, from Elgin, Ill.
Students’ Work Impacts Thousands
Students also packed food, toiletries and cleaning supplies for needy families, cleaned nonprofit facilities, removed graffiti, painted walls and fences and worked on a South Nashville farm, among other community service projects.
At Feed the Children, Brittany Biggers smiles as she watches students fold cardboard boxes and stuff them with essentials, including lotion, shampoo, laundry detergent, hand sanitizer and canned goods. It is the third consecutive August that some 100 Belmont students have come to the warehouse.
“Belmont has always been a good partner with us, and with this group we are able to run two assembly lines with an estimated 800 to 1,000 boxes an hour. So in two hours, these students are able to pack nearly 2,000 boxes for families in need,” said Biggers, volunteer coordinator for Feed the Children. “This group is very responsive and interactive. That is important for a coordinator to see and know that the volunteers are inspired.”
At the end of an assembly line stands Abby Sevick armed with a tape dispenser to seal the boxes.
“Everyone who goes to Belmont is good-natured, helpful and friendly, so it seems natural that they are engaged in community service,” said Sevick, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It goes back to our Christian values. Instead of just talking about being Christians, we are acting on those values.”