At official freshman Convocation and day of welcome, GW students, faculty and staff put in work at 40 sites around Washington, D.C.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Chatting energetically as they knelt in the dirt, Bridget Carl and her friends didn’t look like they’d been doing manual labor in the September sun for hours—but the piles of earth all around them told their own story.
“It’s been oddly relaxing, actually,” Ms. Carl said with a smile, turning over another spadeful of dirt in the FoodPrints vegetable garden outside the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens.
“This kind of labor is meaningful because we just provide manpower,” said Alyssa Martindale, like Ms. Carl a freshman at the George Washington University. “It’s not about us, it really serves the community.”
Ms. Carl and Ms. Martindale were among more than 2200 GW students participating in the school’s traditional Freshman Day of Service Saturday. Alongside about 50 faculty and staff volunteers, they spread out to 40 sites in Maryland, Virginia and all eight wards of Washington, D.C., to clean classrooms, tend gardens, paint murals and connect with the community in which they now live.
It was the university’s ninth annual Freshman Day of Service, a tradition organized by the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service since 2009, when First Lady Michelle Obama challenged GW to complete 100,000 hours of community service. The university has consistently exceeded Mrs. Obama’s goal, last year recording more than 711,000 service hours.
Freshman Day of Service also is part of GW’s commemoration of 9/11 Day and the Tomorrow Together campaign.
Emily Thomson, a sophomore at the Elliott School of International Affairs, volunteered this year as a site leader at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington. Her own Freshman Day of Service experience working with the Friends of Noyes Park was a crucial introduction to the richness of the Washington, D.C., community outside Foggy Bottom, she said.
“It changed my whole outlook,” Ms. Thomson said. “I was pretty sure I wanted to do service in college, but after going to Friends of Noyes Park and meeting all the families and talking to them about D.C., about their neighborhood, about their lives—it really connected me with service. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh I’m going to do something for a couple of hours.’ You’re meeting people and becoming part of a community, and that’s the most important part of service.”