Mercer students dedicate spring break to serving Macon

jmink@macon.comMarch 16, 2013 

While many college students spent their spring break basking on beaches or visiting old friends, Rebecca Hutcheson mowed lawns, sorted clothes and visited nursing home patients -- and she didn’t even leave Macon.

It was the second year for Mercer University’s Spring Break for Service program, a student-led project that encourages students to not only dedicate their spring breaks to community service but to stay in Macon.

“This is to show students the diversity of projects in Macon,” said Hutcheson, a sophomore from Carrollton who helped spearhead the program this year. “A lot of (spring break volunteerism) programs send you off or cost money. This one is free for participants, and the only thing you have to do is stay on campus.”

Over the past week, 11 students -- two from Agnes Scott College near Atlanta -- visited less fortunate residents and helped charitable organizations. They spent time with children at The Methodist Home for Children and Youth and visited people at Daybreak homeless center and Heritage Healthcare.

They spent a day ripping out baseboards, clearing bamboo, mowing and cleaning walls as they helped Habitat for Humanity rebuild a Macon home. They spent hours sorting clothes for Goodwill Industries in Macon.

In total, those students were expected to spend about 250 hours volunteering over spring break, said Chelsea Flieger, coordinator of community engagement at Mercer.

The spring break program is part of a larger group, Local Engagement Against Poverty or LEAP, which plans community service projects every other Saturday. This spring, LEAP is projected to volunteer a total of about 10,000 hours, Flieger said.

“Students feel like they need to go somewhere else to do spring break (service) programs,” she said. “Why do we feel like we need to go somewhere else when there’s so much need ... here in this city?”

That attitude is one reason why Mercer recently picked up a national recognition for volunteerism. Mercer was one of 690 colleges and universities to earn a spot on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the university announced in early March.

Not only was Mercer included in the honor roll -- the highest federal recognition for higher education community service -- but it was one of two colleges in Georgia and one of 113 nationwide to earn a spot with distinction, according to a news release.

Last academic year, more than half of Mercer’s students completed more than 224,500 hours of community service.

“Community service has been embedded in Mercer’s DNA since the university’s founding in 1833,” Mercer President Bill Underwood said in a news release. “It is a vital part of our mission.”

But for Hutcheson, community service is not about awards and recognitions.

“Changing other people’s lives is much more important to me,” she said.

Hutcheson hopes the Spring Break for Service program continues and grows over the next few years. She plans to hand the reins to a younger student next year, but she will continue to be involved in community service, she said. In fact, when she graduates, Hutcheson is considering working for a medical nonprofit organization.

“I like to get involved, and I like to be a part of things,” she said. “But the most important thing now is to show other students that there are tons of ways to make a difference.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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