First-Year Students Celebrate Return of In-Person Learning with Service

Welcome Days of Service is an opportunity for students to give back to GW and the greater D.C. communities through service projects.

August 30, 2021

GW Days of Service

Max Wiener (center), a first-year student majoring in business, paints a mural at The Store alongside junior Manasi Moni-Trichur. (William Atkins/ GW Today)

As first-year student Sarah Pinkaw shelved and organized books for teachers at the School Without Walls on Friday, she wondered what the upcoming academic year would have in store for her. After a year of remote learning, Ms. Pinkaw, who plans to major in international affairs, is eager to get back into the classroom.

“I'm excited to see my professors and make friends that I can interact with and go to lunch with and do all these things with,” she said. “I hope that the transition will go smoothly, and I can kind of find my place here.”

Ms. Pinkaw and many of her new peers participated in Welcome Days of Service, an annual event organized by the GW Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service that connects first-year students to the world of community service and civic engagement at George Washington University, offering opportunities to give back on campus and within the greater D.C. community. 

This year’s multi-day event marked GW’s first in-person service opportunity for students in more than a year. More than 150 students participated in projects packing supply bags with Girls on the Run DC, which inspires young girls through running, creating writing and reading materials for preschool children with Jumpstart at GW, and removing invasive plants as part of a restoration project at Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown. Initial plans to host virtual service opportunities were cancelled due to overwhelming interest in the in-person projects. 

“We are so happy to welcome students to their new home at GW and in D.C. through service and civic engagement,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Nashman Center. “This is the ideal place to use your academic and civic skills to make an impact. And you can stay involved throughout your time here through Nashman Center programs and community-engaged courses and research.”

Welcome Days of Service is an annual service day tradition that began after former First Lady Michelle Obama challenged the university in 2010 to complete 100,000 volunteer hours in one academic year. The university has exceeded that number every year since. Last year, the GW community completed 654,708 hours of service and was awarded 504 President’s Volunteer Service Awards, a national recognition for service.

Welcome Day of Service is also a part of GW’s annual commemoration of 9/11 and observance of the national 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, which seeks to emulate the spirit of service embraced by many Americans in the days following the attacks 20 years ago this year.

First-year student Max Wiener was hard at work on Friday helping put the finishing touches on a new mural inside GW’s student-run food pantry, The Store, in District House. The Store serves more than 800 GW students annually, offering students over 40,000 pounds of donated and purchased food. 

Mr. Wiener, who plans to major in business, said The Store’s mission of combating food insecurity is what made him want to volunteer for the project. College can take a financial toll on many families, he said, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wanted to help out in any way I can to make the space feel welcome,” Mr. Wiener said.

On Thursday and Friday, groups of first-year students completed CPR training hosted by EMeRG, GW’s student-run emergency medical response group. In a Nashman Center conference room, students were taught how to perform chest compressions and deliver rescue breaths to both children and adults in distress. They learned about good Samaritan laws, how to help a person who is choking and how to use a defibrillator. 

Helen Graham, a first-year student majoring in peace studies, said she was interested in the CPR training because “you never know when someone is going to need help.”

“It seemed like an easy way to be prepared to do something good for someone else,” she said.

Ms. Graham said Welcome Days of Service was a good opportunity to meet new people and make face-to-face connections with her new peers. 

Sarah Birmingham, a graduate assistant of immersion service with the Nashman Center, said Welcome Days of Service is an unparalleled opportunity for new students to engage with community partners that align with their interests—organizations it might otherwise take them months or years to discover. 

“I encourage first year students specifically to try things out and broaden their experiences,” she said. “Going outside your comfort zone, exposing yourself to something that's not part of your normal experience, that's where new growth and new opportunities happen.”

Additional Weeks of Welcome events will be held through early September. Every Friday in September students will be able to get to know hundreds of GW’s student organizations as part of “Org Fair Friday.” They can attend the combined Org Fair Friday and MSSC Block Party in University Yard on Sept. 3. Students can also get on their feet at the Silent Disco on Sept. 9, a headphones-only dance party where they can enjoy free snacks and a chance to win prizes.