By James Irwin
More than 2,400 first-year students are expected to participate in the George Washington University’s sixth annual Freshman Day of Service and Convocation on Sept. 6, when they will volunteer alongside 44 community partners at sites throughout the metro area.
“We are a university that promotes knowledge in action,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “I think, in having Freshman Day of Service and Convocation as one of the first events where students come together, we demonstrate that GW is a university of service, of civic engagement, as well as of academic and social responsibility.”
Convocation, which begins 11 a.m. Saturday at the Charles E. Smith Center, will feature remarks from George Washington University President Steven Knapp and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Lerman, as well as a deans’ welcome and academic procession. The GW community is expected to complete more than 8,000 community service hours over the course of the day, one of the university’s largest single-day service events.
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ben Vinson III addresses students at last year's Freshman Convocation.
Over the past five years, GW has amassed 1.24 million volunteer hours in communities around the world. Freshman Day of Service volunteer projects run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter will provide keynote remarks at Convocation.
“She has been involved in some of the most cutting-edge movements over the last decade in terms of uniting community development and responsible environmental practices,” Ms. Cohen said. “She brings great enthusiasm and knowledge of how to build vibrant communities even in the most economically disadvantaged places.”
Environmental justice and social justice are at the core of this year’s event. Freshman Day of Service and First Chapter—a GW freshman reading program that brings students together through reading and discussing a common book—have united their programs. Will Allen, the author of this year’s First Chapter book, “The Good Food Revolution,” will speak at Lisner Auditorium on Sept. 5. GW volunteers the following day will help beautify and improve two model sustainable farms at ECO City Farms in the Maryland suburbs. ECO City Farms is modeled after Mr. Allen’s work. More events that focus on these themes are planned for later in the academic year, Ms. Cohen said.
“The urban farm is a great site to learn how to produce food and jobs in an urban area,” she said. “And it aligns nicely with a lot of the work the Office of Sustainability and the Urban Food Task Force has been doing over the last several years, and with the work Majora Carter does regarding environmental justice.”
Students, faculty and staff will volunteer alongside 44 community partners on service projects throughout the D.C. metro area Saturday.
Other Freshman Day of Service sites include:
Age-friendly D.C. neighborhood surveys
As part of GW’s involvement in the city’s age-friendly initiative (Dr. Knapp co-chairs the D.C. Age-Friendly Task Force), university volunteers will work in teams alongside local senior residents to complete community asset surveys for neighborhoods in Wards 5, 6 and 7. They will document issues that impair healthy living and mobility, assisting city officials and nonprofit and business community leaders to help make D.C. more age-friendly.
Armed Forces Retirement Home volunteer visits
One group of volunteers at this site will work to clean up a pond on the grounds of the home and draft cards and letters for soldiers overseas. Another group will work with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and residents of the home to create comfort kits for military families who have lost loved ones.
Vinson Hall retirement community history project
Service projects at this site vary. Volunteers will work on various gardening projects around the Vinson Hall campus. They also will assist with a military veterans history project through the Library of Congress, interviewing and documenting the stories of veterans and family members of veterans living at the hall.
My Good Deed: D.C. Fire and EMS beautification project
Environmental sustainability is the theme here, as volunteers—including Convocation speaker and My Good Deed co-founder Jay Winuk—will work to control erosion, spread mulch and create flower beds and benches at a D.C. Fire and EMS location. Another group will complete garden maintenance, organize supplies and participate in beautification projects at the Douglas Community Center.