Last week I had the privilege of hosting the Cleburne Friends of Scouting breakfast, a fundraising event for the Cleburne Boy Scouts. At the breakfast we honored Cleburne’s own Bobby de la Garza for his dedication to serving this community with integrity, respect, and good character. As I put together the introduction for this special honoree, I was reminded of the importance of serving others. Recently, I was excited to learn that our student association president, Samson, wanted to establish an annual service day where we would close down our academic classes and have the student body engage in projects to benefit the community. Samson was inspired with this thought after reviewing our 5-year strategic plan reading from Major Initiative 3 that we should provide service to the community through employee and student engagement and that students and staff should make community engagement a distinctive feature of the University. In meeting with me, Samson recommended that we set aside a day to provide intentional service to the community. This was approved and a date of April 6 was selected. With enthusiasm, students sprang into action to carefully plan this student-led, service-oriented event identified as SWAU Ignite.
Over 200 students, faculty, and staff volunteered to work on 17 community projects around Johnson County. Student organizer Christina mentioned that planning for such a large group was a challenge, but God worked miracles, and the highlight for her was hearing that the service recipients couldn’t wait for the students to return again next year!
Vice President for Spiritual Development Russ Laughlin joined 15 students and 2 faculty, working alongside the park rangers at Cleburne State Park, clearing invasive brush from the dam. He said the park rangers shared with the students about the history of the park and about the local plant and animal life, making for an informative, fun, physically demanding, yet rewarding afternoon.
The Enactus Club members used SWAU Ignite to launch a new project called HomeGrown. Students built and delivered ten backyard garden boxes to families in the community. The boxes were filled with premium soil and ready to plant. One recipient was so excited that she had to hug each student, sharing that she’d been praying for a way to start gardening again. Our Enactus team felt the blessing of giving.
Veronica, a junior finance major, swam with developmentally disabled adults and children. She said there wasn’t a moment when laughter and giggles weren’t heard coming from the pool. Veronica said it meant a lot to her to see her school setting aside time to give back to the community and reflected, “I am so grateful for this experience, and I look forward to next year!”
Glen Robinson, journalism professor, accompanied a group of students that volunteered in Egan at The ARK (Animal Refuge Kingdom). The ARK is a site for harboring mistreated animals and home to alpacas, geese, donkeys, peacocks and dogs. Glen spent time with students clearing off an island where geese were nesting and shared, “The more I get involved with serving others, the more I see the joy in it. You might think that satisfaction comes from pursuing your own desires, but it’s exactly the opposite. Help others, and you’re really helping yourself.”
That evening, we came together as students, staff, and faculty to relax and reflect on our experiences. We started by sitting back and enjoying a video showcasing the different projects. It was rewarding to see how much could be accomplished in such a short time when we work together. We listened as students shared stories of what the service project meant to them. One of our student leaders, Andrew, observed that this Service Day was “spiritually enriching and a blessing to all who were involved.” He went on to say, that “the future of Service Day is bright” and “we are striving to ignite a flame within our community.”
It is clear; living a life of service benefits the person or entity who is receiving the service, but personally I believe the greater benefit is gained by those providing the service. I agree with Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
>>>Originally written as an op-ed article for the Cleburne Times Review.