Across the United States, the percentage of the population that takes time out of their busy schedules to volunteer is dwindling, according to a recent report released by AmeriCorps and the U.S. Census Bureau, and the total number of hours donated by volunteers has plummeted to less than half of what it was just two decades ago. In this environment of charitable decline, ensuring students understand the importance of becoming global-minded citizens is among the top priorities at Blair. Beyond professional and personal success and fulfillment, we want Blair alums to make a positive impact on their communities, and that mission is never more prominent than during the annual Day of Service.
For the eighth year, the entire Blair community put aside their day-to-day routine to take part in a tradition of giving to support the greater area in a variety of ways. On May 19, more than 500 students and faculty gave their time and effort to more than 20 organizations in need. Before setting off to divide and conquer their busy schedule, McKenziee Belton ’16 addressed the crowd of eager volunteers about the meaning of the day and the value of service. Working in the child life department at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, McKenziee shared that community service is ingrained in her, both professionally and personally. Her dedication to service was no different during her time at Blair, when she was a prefect and served on the committee for Relay for Life, the Community Service Club and the Healthy Relationships Committee. McKenziee also spearheaded the first student-initiated service trip to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and has participated in every subsequent Blair trip to St. Jude.
“Community service provides so many opportunities for personal growth, mentorship and self- reflection,” McKenziee told the crowd in the DuBois Theatre. “It allows you to learn more about yourself, your goals and who you hope to be, all while helping others.” McKenziee encouraged students to consider these points while they were out making someone’s day a little brighter by giving back.
On campus, volunteers hosted guests from SCARC and Rebecca’s Homestead, two nonprofit organizations in Sussex County, New Jersey, committed to working with individuals with developmental disabilities. Nearly 125 volunteers joined forces at Project Self-Sufficiency (PSS) this year, an organization that helps individuals and families in the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon become economically self-sufficient. Led by language department chair Joyce Lang, students proficient in Spanish also volunteered to help translate brochures for PSS. Another group helped collect, organize and store items for Blair’s Tag Sale in the fall, with proceeds going to both Blair in Kenya and local charities. New this year, the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, New Jersey, hosted students from film teacher Robert Hanson’s class, where they filmed a PSA for the non-profit that offers educational guided tours, photography sessions and options to see wolves, bobcats and foxes.
“I love seeing how much fun the students have,” said Joanne Brandwood, history teacher and director of Blair’s Day of Service. “I think they often end up enjoying volunteering more than they expected.”
Aside from serving those in need and strengthening connections between Blair and the local community, the Day of Service also promotes leadership among students. Within each group, a site leader is assigned for the project. These students are responsible for assisting faculty leaders, generating enthusiasm and helping facilitate a successful day.
“I am so proud of the students. They are out there doing fantastic work. It makes Blair proud and serves the community in such a positive way.” Mrs. Brandwood noted. “Hopefully this day sparks a lifelong habit of service.” After the dust settled on another inspirational Day of Service, volunteers returned to campus to swap stories and relax. As Blair traditions go, the Day of Service is one of the most uplifting and heartwarming, and instills a life lesson of service and gratitude in those that participate.