A Part of the EquationNov 10th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Features
Through the 123=ABC community service event, participants weeded, painted, planted, rebuilt and cleaned to beautify the local community.
BY ABIGAIL HILL ’12
On August 21, faculty, staff, community leaders and students gathered with gloves, brushes and hammers in hand. More than 800 participants in total came together at the Wesley campus preceding the largest clean-up project that the City of Dover has ever seen. Partnering with the Dover Housing Authority (DHA), Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity (CDHFH), City of Dover and the Office of the Honorable Senator Tom Carper, Wesley incorporated the community service project into its New Student Orientation programming. The Class of 2014 took to the streets, starting their college experience by giving back to their new community.
The 123=ABC event was a one-day project focusing on improving curb appeal and streetscape within the downtown Dover area. From 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., participants weeded, painted, planted, rebuilt and cleaned to beautify the local community and give City of Dover residents pride in their homes and neighborhood. The efforts focused on a 20 block radius including the City of Dover/Carper Homeownership Program Target Area, from Loockerman Street north to Mary Street to Governors Avenue west to West Street. During the summer, local residents had a chance to apply for the project and nearly 25 homeowners put their homes on the list for maintenance.
“It takes a community to maintain a community,” explained Jocelyn McBride, executive director of the CDHFH.
Members of the Wesley College family made up the bulk of the clean-up crew with a whopping 720 participants consisting of 600 incoming freshmen as well as student-athletes back on campus for preseason training, faculty and staff. It was the initial hope of Mary-Alice Ozechoski, dean of students, that in integrating the event into the College’s Orientation, it would allow students “to understand a little bit more about the City of Dover and inspire them during their four years at Wesley College to give back.”
With registration starting at 7 a.m. in the Dashiell Amphitheatre, event organizers spent the early morning hours preparing last minute details before the hundreds of volunteers showed up. Everyone was given a “goodie bucket” courtesy of DHA. These were full of local information, coupons for area businesses and prizes donated by sponsors. T-shirts designed by Wesley students were also handed out at registration to all the volunteers. The shirts featured the 123=ABC event name and a custom logo illustrating a group of people holding hands in a circle with the words “Be Part of the Equation.” “It was all about making sure our volunteers were taken care of and appreciated,” explained Ami Sebastian-Hauer, executive director of the DHA.
President Bill Johnston provided welcoming remarks, along with Senator Carper and various community and event leaders. After gathering their maps and assignments, the throng of volunteers dispersed like a swarm of worker bees throughout the surrounding neighborhood. Split into morning and afternoon shifts, crews of 10 to 15 individuals tended to specific sites and projects with a singular mission.
The groups were project specific, varying in size based on the task at hand. Some project sites called for general contractors provided by the CDHFH. The Dover Police Department was also involved in the 123=ABC event, heading up teams and adding extra security in the streets to secure safety and provide directions if needed. Within the 20 block radius, water stops, port-a-potties and dumpsters were set up, courtesy of the City of Dover and other event partners. Back at the Wesley campus, a first aid station was available and an EMT was on call. With every detail well coordinated, the event proceeded smoothly.
Each group had a lead volunteer, either a faculty or staff member, upperclassman orientation leader, resident assistant or a community leader, who was in charge of project supplies, assigning individual tasks and supervising the site. “An important part was for our students to see staff and faculty helping in a different environment, not in a classroom or in an office, but for students to see them as real people lending a hand just like them,” expressed Ozechoski.
Included in the 123=ABC event were general revitalization tasks, such as painting curbs, cutting back overgrown vegetation, cleaning up litter around the streets, and sprucing up two neighborhood playgrounds and a daycare center. In addition, volunteer groups completed projects at 25 home sites, such as building a wheelchair ramp, re-screening front porches, painting, repairing trim around windows and doors, power washing siding, repairing gutters, replacing stairs, planting shrubs and picking up trash. The event catered to property owners who had applied for assistance, many of whom were elderly or unable to complete the tasks on their own. However, there were no specific criteria keeping any community member from getting a little help from the 123=ABC event.
“Dover is our home,” Ozechoski said. “There are some beautiful homes and some beautiful spaces that we are all aware of, but there are some places really very close to our campus that need our help. Unlike other local institutions, it is right in our back yard.”
As the event wrapped up in the late afternoon, all the volunteers trickled back to Wesley’s campus to enjoy a barbeque dinner celebration hosted by Aramark Dining Services. In addition to plentiful food, this included live music and information on other community volunteer programs. Wesley administrators hope to use the event as a springboard to give students a feel for community service and then offer plentiful opportunities for them to continue to stay involved. “I think that the expectation is that, of the four colleges in Dover, Wesley becomes an institution whose hallmark is service, because we are church related, because we are residential and frankly, because of where we sit in Dover we have a commitment to our community and to people less fortunate than our students,” explained Ozechoski.
It was only through months of hard work and successful collaboration that a project of this magnitude was even possible. From the College, Ozechoski and the Student Life staff as well as the new Director of Spiritual Life and Community Engagement Erica Brown made up the driving force behind the 123=ABC event planning. CDHFH also played a tremendous role in the plans, covering logistics, the coordinating of projects and the gathering of supervisors. DHA contributed significantly to the efforts by gathering requests for community projects from local residents and assessing the work, and recruiting event sponsors. All organizations involved provided volunteers and were indispensible partners in the formation of the event.
In addition to the planning and labor needed to pull off such a large-scale project, monetary and in-kind donations were necessary to the success of 123=ABC. One of the biggest contributors was Lowe’s, which donated a majority of the project supplies and volunteer equipment such as construction gloves, hats and tools. Walmart Distribution Center provided a donation of mulch and top soil. WSFS and Citizens Bank, among other area banks, contributed both monetary gifts as well as volunteers for the event, as did downtown merchants, Senator Carper, Representative Darryl Scott and Mrs. Carla Markell, wife of Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Other local non-profit groups, including Downtown Dover Partnership and House of Pride, joined in to help get the project underway.
“What we are doing is the start of a revitalization project, and I am hoping that it will spur some kind of community improvement and property improvement within the owners and the landlords so that they start to realize in order to draw people downtown and to move into that area, it needs curb appeal and streetscape to change the atmosphere,” said Sebastian-Hauer.
A true group effort, the 123=ABC event has proven to the City of Dover that a strong community effort can change the streetscape for the better. At the same time, there also is a need for ongoing work to keep the neighborhoods clean and attractive. With this first-time event considered to be a success by all accounts, it may become an annual event for the Dover community.
The event also reinforced the idea, both to the College’s students and local residents, that Wesley is a key community player. “The experience helped me to realize that no matter how small the change, whether it be painting a fence or weeding a garden, that small changes are the best way to start making a big difference,” expressed freshman Brittany Blackston of Dover.
Immersing themselves in community service and getting their hands dirty in the process, the newest members of the College community quickly became “part of the equation” as the event’s tagline suggested. Ozechoski added, “I hope it starts a notion that when you come to Wesley College, part of being here is doing community service. It’s a piece of who we are.”
To view more photos from this events visit the Wesley College Flickr page.