by ABIGAIL SLAUGHTER
Campus Outreach and Resources hosted Good Neighbor Day on Saturday, March 19 for the first time since 2019. This day of community service was the last large COAR event of the semester, drawing a close to COAR’s campus-wide event schedule for the spring 2022 semester.
“[Good Neighbor Day] is a chance for UMW students to help our neighbors in the neighborhood of College Heights and neighborhoods below campus by conducting yard work and volunteering their time and talents to help our neighbors out,” said Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement, who has helped manage COAR for the past four years.
This year, there were 14 volunteer sites, all led by COAR council members and COAR staff, who were referred to as “homeowners” that supervised and led their own groups of students at their respective sites. Most projects were within walking distance, and approximately 55 students participated, all receiving three hours of community service.
According to the UMW website, Good Neighbor Day involves helping “our UMW neighbors with yard work and other home improvement projects,” in the local Fredericksburg community. These projects can range from mulching to moving furniture to digging up bushes.
Taylor Coleman, a junior history major and COAR staff member, helped run Saturday’s event.
“My role was [to help] manage the event and crowd control and make sure all of the projects go on their way and made sure everything ran smoothly,” said Coleman. She opened the event with a poison ivy demonstration and aimed to make sure everything went well.
However, COAR faced challenges that forced them to make changes to the distribution of students at volunteer sites.
“We had a project that canceled on us last-minute, but we were able to adjust pretty quickly and get those people to other projects,” said Coleman.
After the group leaders returned to campus with their student volunteers, they were able to order free tacos, chips and salsa from a food truck brought by Juan More Taco, who catered the event.
“We wanted to give a picnic to our volunteers, so we decided on a food truck,” said Coleman.
Max Steinbaum, a freshman historic preservation major, was tasked with painting the spirit rock to advertise the event.
“[Good Neighbor Day] was lovely,” said Steinbaum. “COAR was one of the reasons why I came to UMW, and it was so great. I didn’t get to go out to anyone’s house per se, but just being out there with a bunch of people doing good, making other people smile makes me smile as well.”
Macey Lynch, a senior communication and digital studies major and COAR council leader of Food Recovery, attended her first Good Neighbor Day last Saturday.
“I’m also a council leader, so we’re here to lead the programs that we’re going on today,” said Lynch.
She led a group assigned to dig up bushes in a person’s front yard.
“It was actually really fun. We did bamboo too, so we extracted bamboo roots,” said Lynch.
Although Good Neighbor Day typically happens in March of every year, it did not happen last spring due to UMW’s restrictions on large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t do Good Neighbor Day [last year] because we didn’t want to be in contact with people off campus,” said Dewees. “We did have Pay It Forward day, and that was similar to Into the Streets, where we had several different community projects. We gathered outdoors wearing masks.”
On March 18, a weekly COVID update email informed students and faculty that the CDC lists the community COVID levels for Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties as “low.” With UMW’s indoor mask mandate lifted everywhere on campus but classrooms, labs, mass transit and health locations, the university is steadily returning to a pre-pandemic “normal.”
Student volunteers were told they only needed to wear masks if asked to do so.
“It’s emotional, but inspiring [to return to normalcy],” said Dewees. “Things are different, but in small ways, we are returning back to what life was like pre-pandemic, coming together for service projects. Outdoor projects feel especially safe.”
Dewees continued, “Our students are invested in making the world a better place, and that starts in Fredericksburg.”