One student said that this was her first time doing community service. Another said that others had helped her throughout her life and this was the first time she could return the favor. More students said that random people who saw their service stopped and thanked them for their work.
These are just some of the many sentiments coming from American University’s Freshman Service Experience. The three-day service event allows new students entering the opportunity to give back to their new home in Washington, D.C. This year, at 47 sites in all four quadrants of the city, and in Prince George’s County, Maryland, over 640 students—the largest in the program’s 19-year history—gave an estimated 14,000 hours of service, organizers said.
Service projects are just one element of the “service experience.” In addition to orientation activities designed to introduce new students to each other and to the University, evenings present a rich cultural program aimed at increasing awareness of social justice inequality in the District of Columbia. Events have included a panel discussion on housing, homelessness and gentrification; a performance by the local DC group “Life Pieces to Masterpieces;” and a screening of a documentary about local students at Ballou High School.
This year, the Freshman Service Experience comes amid the national United We Serve initiative and the program has joined with myImpact.org, whose co-founder Chris Golden is a senior at American University, to share stories of service. Throughout the week, myImpact.org has been interviewing students and documenting their efforts using social media. Photos and video interviews are available on the organization’s social network, united.myImpact.org.
Organizers say that they put tremendous effort into making these three days as meaningful as possible for new students because, in the past, students who participate in FSE come back to the University’s Community Service Center looking for further ways to become involved. The school offers a grant program, the Eagle Endowment, to students who propose innovative ways to continue serving in the DC area, and former FSE students are encouraged to apply in order to continue their work.