GW Students Volunteer across the D.C. area for Welcome Day of Service

The longstanding tradition is a way for incoming students to get involved in the culture of volunteerism celebrated at GW and learn about valuable community programs.

September 24, 2023

Day of Service 2023

Javier José Castillo (left) worked with a group of GW students outside helping clear rocks out of the play area at Takoma Elementary School. (William Atkins/GW Today)

More than 800 George Washington University students, staff and faculty volunteered their time to local organizations during the 15th annual Convocation and Welcome Day of Service. 

The longstanding tradition is a way for incoming students to get involved in the culture of civic engagement celebrated at GW and enjoy building community with their classmates and senior university administrators. 

This year, students helped at 38 sites including D.C. area schools that have been busy since the start of the school      year. The various projects were coordinated by the Honey W Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

Izzy Russo, a first-year student studying political science, was one of 36 students at Takoma Elementary School in Northwest Washington. The volunteers split into four groups, dividing the tasks among  projects including painting, working outdoors, organizing files and clearing supply closets. 

Russo said the Day of Service gave her a chance to get to know more of D.C., give back to the community and meet other first-year students she hadn’t yet encountered on campus. 

“I’m glad to get out into the community and help out,” Russo said. “I'm not from D.C., so it's nice to feel like I'm giving something back to the city that's letting me go to college here. I’ve always loved volunteering, and this is a fun way to spend our day.” 

Russo was hard at work with her fellow GW students sorting through piles of school supplies. 

The group was joined by GW President Ellen M. Granberg who helped move and break down boxes. 

“This class of 2027 has such great energy and such excitement,” Granberg said. “I’m seeing it as we're out and about and looking at the projects they’re all working on. It’s going to make a difference.”

Days of Service have been an important part of GW tradition since 1995 when the university observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a time to give back to the community through service projects. In 2009, GW instituted a second annual day of service in September after President Barack Obama’s executive order declaring 9/11 as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. 

In 2010, GW officially named the day Freshman Day of Service and encouraged all first-year students to volunteer at local organizations. That year, the university focused beyond first responders and served alongside First Lady Michelle Obama. She challenged students to perform 100,000 hours of community service during the 2009-10 academic year and in return, she would speak at GW’s 2010 Commencement. 

In 2019, the day was renamed to Welcome Day of Service and the tradition continued, even during COVID with adjustments to ensure social distancing guidelines were followed to ensure students' health and safety.

This year, in addition to serving at Takoma Elementary, GW students also volunteered at many other D.C. Public Schools, including with the annual D.C. Block Party at McKinley Tech High School. Tropical Storm Ophelia deterred some volunteers, but hundreds still pushed forward to many sites across the D.C. area, including Ward 8 Woods.  Other groups worked on projects in the University Student Center, where they made language and literacy materials for preschool children and families; created backpacks full of math materials for GW’s Math Matters middle school tutoring program; and supported incarcerated young people through the Free Minds Book Club, commenting on students’ creative writing. 

Kimora Williams, a sophomore studying political science, enjoyed participating in the Day of Service so much last year, she returned this year as a team leader. She is also a member of Jumpstart, a national AmeriCorps program with a longstanding partnership with GW that trains and places college students in teams to serve preschools in historically underserved neighborhoods for an academic year. 

“One of the schools I come to with Jumpstart GW is Takoma,” Williams said. “So, I'm very excited to be here and kind of give back to my kids. My favorite part is being able to make connections with the students and to honestly see them grow. When you call them, and they know your name and you know their name and you can see them from the beginning of the year to the end of the year and how much they've grown with their reading and their comprehension skills. I think that's like the most rewarding part.” 

Williams worked with the group painting the hallways and school gym. They carefully laid out plastic tarps and tape before getting to work adding blue paint to the school’s banner. 

Javier José Castillo, a sophomore art history and international affairs major, worked with the group outside helping clear rocks out of the play area in the school’s backyard. 

“Last year, when I was a freshman, I was part of Welcome Day of Service,” Castillo said.  “We were at a park in Maryland, it was very hot. It was a nice day. Beautiful atmosphere. Today, it's a little bit of the opposite side, but I still think the people who came really wanted to come.”

Castillo said he enjoyed getting to learn about Takoma Elementary, speaking with staff at the school, hearing their values and the ways they try to meet the needs of their students. 

“I’m happy to be part of it and take part in community with GW,” Castillo said.