Over 200 UR students volunteered last weekend for Be the Change Day, a community service project that helped to clean up the 19th Ward. The students, armed with rakes, shovels and orange garbage bags, picked up trash in the vicinity of Clara Barton School No. 2.

Be the Change Day is Rochester’s way of celebrating National Gandhi Day of Service, an annual day when people get together and volunteer to help their community. The tradition began in 1997, when a group of students at the University of Michigan convened with the goal to unify people through community service. The idea received a huge response and soon spread to over 200 universities across the nation.

On Saturday, students from all over campus cleaned up the 19th Ward. The day started with a late breakfast in Wilson Commons and a speech by Rochester City Councilman Dana Miller. The volunteers were then shuttled by bus to the Clara Barton School No. 2 in the 19th Ward, where they met up with about 25 fifth and sixth graders from the school. They joined together to pick up trash in a four-block stretch around Reynolds Street.

Students at UR have been participating in Be the Change Day projects since 2002. This year there were a lot of changes from previous years. According to senior Anand Popuri, one of the organizers of the event, the overall focus changed this year.

“We wanted to focus directly on the neighboring community to send a message that UR cares about the city of Rochester,” he said. “As a senior in college I look back and I see the invisible barriers that have been between the university and the community across the bridge. The event was a step in the right direction, we really wanted to break down those barriers.”

On campus, the groups that headed the event were the Association for the Development of Interest in the Indian Subcontinent, The Charles Drew Society, Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, Inc. and The Community Service Network. According to Ann Gisinger and Nisha Punambekar, Publicity co-chairs of ADITI, the mission of Be the Change Day is to encourage leadership and strong community through volunteerism and community service. Freshman Alex Vassilio thought that they accomplished their goal.

“It was a unifying experience,” he said. “It brought people from the University together, both with each other and with the community.”

“We did a good job. We cleaned a lot up,” sophomore and D’Lion Molly Kelly said. Kelly brought most of her hall with her to the event. However, she thinks the group could have accomplished more. “We had so many people that I think they weren’t prepared for how fast we worked together.”

Response from the school and community was equally positive. Popuri said that he received a call from the mayor of Rochester, thanking him for putting the event together. Najmah Abdulmateen, in her first year as principal of the Clara Barton School No. 2, also appreciated the students’ help.

“I was impressed with the students,” Abdulmateen said. “I had a chance to speak with them and they seemed like really wonderful people. We enjoyed having them here.” She was also glad that the children from her school were able to work together with the older students.

“The fifth and sixth graders that came out had a great time working with the college students,” Abdulmateen said. “They really felt like they were interacting with them.” She pointed out that some of the older students sat with the younger ones during dinner that evening. Popuri was also glad that the younger students were involved.

“This year we incorporated kids from the local community in an effort to reach out to children,” Popuri said. “We did this because children need to see their potential, the need to see physical goals. We thought by bringing them to campus and having them work with UR students, they would see a future for themselves at the university one day.”

The community response was enthusiastic. Concerns that the 19th Ward is a dangerous neighborhood were quickly discarded, as students reported seeing members of the community drive by honking their horns and yelling “thank you.”

“We didn’t feel threatened at all,” Kelly said.

Abdulmateen is excited about future projects between UR and the 19th Ward. She has a specific program in mind where college students would help sixth graders work on year-long research papers.

“I really look forward to building a relationship between our intermediate level students and the University,” she said. “I don’t want this to just be a one day thing.”Wrobel can be reached at bwrobel@campustimes.org.

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