By Janeen M. Edwards
Helping make communities cleaner and lives better was the role of Rider students on Make a Difference Day, Oct. 24.
Organized by associate director of campus life for service learning Joan Liptrot, as well as community service organizations such as RiderSERVES and Rider Bonner Community Scholars, Make a Difference Day sent hundreds of Rider students out to 10 service sites to aid people across the state.
Some students traveled to the Boys & Girls Club and played with children for the day while other students cleared trails at The Lawrence Nature Center and cleaned up a neighborhood in Trenton in a service event called Care Trenton. Also in Trenton, some students resurfaced the playground at Millhill Child & Family Development.
Make a Difference Day “is a wonderful opportunity for us to show the world we care — as a group, as a student body, as a community,” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell.
“I can tell you that [the people in the communities] appreciate this more than anybody can imagine,” Campbell said. “Anytime you do service, it’s a good feeling of giving back.”
This year’s day of service consisted of five service sites within Mercer County and five located in other nearby areas.
In Pennsylvania, some students volunteered at Snipes Farm & Education Center by helping prepare for Fall Fest.
Student volunteers saw an opportunity for every participant.
“There’s a niche for everyone,” said RiderSERVES student leader sophomore marketing major Joanna Lombardi. “Whether you like to help children, help elderly people, anything, you’ll find someone that you connect with, and it’ll make a difference in your life.”
Senior elementary education major Alysa Marcou and member of Phi Sigma Sigma said Make A Difference Day is something that should make those involved proud. She was able to volunteer as a tutor for children at the Upward Bound service site in Trenton, where the volunteers worked with high school kids on college readiness.
Other student participants share this enthusiasm for lending a helping hand.
“It feels good to give back to people and to help our planet — to help the area,” said junior elementary education major Natalina Focarelli, a sister of Zeta Tau Alpha who has volunteered for two years. This year, she participated in a beach sweep near her hometown.
“Mostly, we found a lot of plastic and cigarettes left over in the sand,” Focarelli said. “We mostly cleaned up the garbage that was in the sand and divided up the recyclable things we found and the things we had to throw in the garbage.”
The beach sweeps took place in Tom’s River, Point Pleasant and Asbury Park.
As well, members of the Green Team and four Eco Reps combed across the beach, collecting and sorting all types of trash and recyclables. From bottle caps to one empty jar of minced garlic, the group amassed over 10 bags filled to the brim with litter.
By the time the Beach Sweep ended, the sand was out of their shoes and the salt out of their noses, the group departed with more than just the knowledge that the beach was cleaner. “We left knowing that we made a difference,” said junior writing major Marianna Buseman.
Many Rider service opportunities like Make A Difference Day have made the move to GiveGab, a nonprofit giving platform. Liptrot said it’s now much easier for students to find information on volunteer opportunities.
“It’s an online service that helps us recruit,” said Liptrot. “Students can sign up for service and post things. Somebody just has to go on there and look up Rider University, and the service opportunities that we have are on there.”
While Make A Difference Day consists of single day projects, Liptrot stressed the importance of “providing more service opportunities” and having ongoing projects available to Rider students.
“We’re trying to raise the level of awareness and to increase the culture of service at Rider overall,” she said.
The St. Bernard’s Project is one of those projects, according to Liptrot. Every two weeks a group is sent to help with Superstorm Sandy relief.
“There are still people that didn’t have the insurance to cover the repairs,” Liptrot said. “So the students have been working every other week with a family. Last time they went, two weeks ago, they were actually really excited because they actually got to see the house was coming together.”