Approximately 700 students participated in Wheaton College’s fifth annual ChicaGo Community Service Day on August 25. The tradition sends first-year students, sophomore volunteers, and upperclassman “Go Guides” to serve in Chicago neighborhoods as part of new student orientation week.
On Monday, Wheaton sent 14 buses packed to capacity with students to 26 sites in Chicago. The “Go Groups” registered voters, cleaned up parks and gardens, helped pull stock and check inventory at neighborhood stores, prepared elementary school classrooms for the fall term, and assisted local churches with maintenance and outreach.
“The goal of the day is to set a vision for living with an ethic of service, to introduce students to the specific and diverse needs of the city and the ways to address those needs, and to foster an engaging and meaningful first year student community,” says Dean of Student Engagement Dr. Steve Ivester.
For decades, Wheaton’s orientation week included a day for upperclassmen to take new students into the city for fun, exploration, and deep-dish pizza. Inspired by an article about Elmhurst College’s freshman community service project, Ivester decided to set a vision for an ethic of service at Wheaton by swapping the “Big Sibs” Chicago fun day for a new tradition in 2009.
Go Guide Michael Daugherty led a bus of 50 students to two community gardens in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, neighborhood, where they pulled weeds and organized gardening materials. But the experience wasn’t all about work. While they were moving a few tons of bricks and stones to a storage bin in the summer heat, Daugherty says, the sky suddenly began pouring. “It was a fantastic moment—the new students, Go Guides, and I were jumping and dancing in the rain.”
The group also spent time hearing from Mikey Young, the operations manager of West Town Bikes. “It was inspiring to connect with people who live to better their community,” says Daugherty, a senior anthropology/pre-med major. “The site contacts I talked with shared much about the needs of their community (such as the lack of quality food products and education), but they did not stop at these needs. They did a great job of inspiring students that great work was being done in these communities, and that students can get involved in these opportunities.”
Daugherty says the ChicaGo Community Service Day is a great way to instill the value of service in the incoming class. “This way, new students aren't just hearing from a panel of Wheaton students who say, ‘Make sure you are serving or participating in something in the community.’ They actually get to serve during orientation week.”