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Giving Today for a Greener Tomorrow

by Amy Cohen
More than 1,800 George Washington University students have signed up to participate in the university’s 2010 Freshman Day of Service, which for the second year will take place on and in conjunction with the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.
Shannon Donahue, GW’s Freshman Service Coordinator, began planning for this special day of service last winter along with the staff and students in GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning and many other offices across GW. The many community organizations and agencies participating have also been working for months to create and coordinate meaningful service opportunities. They are ready for what will be the largest service event in GW’s history. Last year, more than 1,200 GW freshmen volunteered for the university’s inaugural Day of Service.

On 9/11 this year, our students will launch their college service careers with an exciting and productive day of service focused on sustainability; our theme is Giving Today for a Greener Tomorrow. Students will fan out across all eight wards of the District of Columbia and into nearby Maryland and Virginia to participate in environmental protection projects including, cleaning rivers, planting trees, and removing invasive plants.

The projects they do will touch other issues and needs in the city and the region as well: hunger, homelessness, community gardens, and meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans and their families.

The projects have been set in an engaging educational context in order to help students and faculty to see the connections between the service they do today and the ways in which academic and service work can intertwine in the coming years to strengthen both.

We will open the day with a motivational talk about the importance of environmental sustainability and the role we each play in supporting a healthy planet, delivered by Emmy-award winning Animal Planet host and leading conservationist Jeff Corwin. Jeff will ask our students to be active learners – digging into the science of the natural world and using that knowledge to take effective action to make a difference.

Students will hear from our University President, Steven Knapp, a committed champion of service and service-learning, and our student body President, Jason Lifton will also inspire students to serve.

With that charge, students will go out to serve in 14 sites, continuing the tradition of service that most of them began in their K-12 schools and expect to deepen and strengthen in college.

While at the service activities and on the trip back to campus, faculty and student leaders will engage students in reflection on their service, leading conversations about the value of service in addressing community needs, and the connection between service and students’ academic interests and civic engagement.

Students will have further opportunity to reflect on their service and the events of 9-11-01 in the evening with a candlelight vigil on the campus.

Freshman Day of Service not only introduces students to our neighbors in the District of Columbia and metropolitan region, it kicks off the school year with the kind of real-world experiences that, combined with rigorous academics, are a hallmark of the culture of service at GW. This sets the University on a course toward working together for academic achievement, civic engagement, sustainability, and community enhancement. On this 9-11 Day of Service and Remembrance we honor those who have served us with our commitment to a life of productive civic engagement.

Formerly the Director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service, Amy Cohen is now the Executive Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service at The George Washington University.

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