The week before Welcome to TU orientation, 100 incoming freshmen and transfer students moved in early for Project Serve. While their peers enjoyed the final days of summer vacation, the newest members of the TU community dedicated their time to volunteering throughout Greater Baltimore.
Project Serve is a program of the Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility in the Division of Student Affairs. Over four days students serve with regional nonprofits while meeting like-minded peers and establishing themselves on their new campus. Offering a pre-orientation experience to incoming students and leadership opportunities to returning students, Project Serve promotes community service and engaged citizenship throughout a student’s time at TU.
Beginning in 2004 with 12 participants, Project Serve has grown to better serve the Towson University and Baltimore communities. After 15 years, Project Serve remains dedicated to creating a culture of service at Towson University and meeting the needs of community partners.
In 2018, Project Serve completed 1,989 hours of community service with over 20 regional organizations. Service activities included removing invasive species from local parks, serving meals, sorting donations, and interacting with residents at retirement homes. Based on the Independent Sector annual rate, these efforts contribute over $49,000 of services to regional organizations.
When asked to explain how their service benefited the community, Project Serve participants repeatedly mentioned the people they met at each service site. One student commented, “I know the service we did benefited the community because of the reactions we received from those we helped out. There was nothing but thankfulness for everything we have done throughout the week.”
A new initiative for 2018 engaged students in conversations around the racial wealth divide in Baltimore. Deepening their understanding of social issues encountered throughout the week, participants identified effects of inequality and brainstormed potential solutions. Groups discussed pros and cons of various options such as additional investments in education, implementing universal pre-k, incentivizing job development, and increasing the minimum wage. Navigating challenging conversations, participants were encouraged to acknowledge and interact with differing perspectives and opinions. Participants further reflected on their role and responsibility as Towson University students in Greater Baltimore.
After each day of service, participants returned to campus for evening social activities. Campus scavenger hunts, kickball, minute-to-win-it games, and tie-dye are annual traditions and favorites. Through long days of service and fun, forming friendships and familiarizing themselves with campus, participants leave Project Serve feeling connected to the Towson University community.
While only a four-day experience, Project Serve acts as a catalyst. Participants are not obligated to maintain their connections after the program, but many choose to continue volunteering in their community. Responding to the prompt, my favorite part of Project Serve was, a 2018 participant stated, “making connections in my community opens my view of the needs and motivates me to be engaged in service. I’m more inspired than ever to be involved and get more people involved.”