Last Saturday morning, almost 100 Whitman community members took part in 13 service projects with local schools and nonprofits. Their efforts were inspired by the national Make a Difference Day organization, which has been organizing an annual day of service nationwide for 25 years.
The event kicked off with remarks by Walla Walla School District Superintendent Wade Smith, who celebrated the current generation's commitment to service.
"We often hear that all millennials care about is taking selfies on Snapchat, posting a picture of last night's dinner on Instagram or programming their latest playlist on Spotify," he said, calling that interpretation a misunderstanding. "While your parents may have viewed payroll deduction as their [form of] charity, millennials prefer to really roll up their sleeves and donate with sweat, labor and perseverance."
Whitman students don't limit their volunteer work to Make a Difference Day. Last year, they logged more than 7,400 hours of community service.
"I'm so impressed with Whitman students' commitment to serve," said Community Service Coordinator Melanie Medina '14, who oversaw the planning of the event with help from intern Liza Briody-Pavlik '19.
Many students signed up for Make a Difference Day in groups: Ten members of the women's lacrosse team came together to clean carpets at a Catholic Charities home for the elderly and disabled.
"I think what's most exciting is we get to do it with each other," said lacrosse player Lindsey Schwartz '19.
Four members of the Spanish interest house (La Casa Hispaña) spent the morning at Edison Elementary School, where they supported the Farm to School movement by pulling weeds and plucking overripe vegetables from the school garden. Their biggest challenge? Dogbane hemp, a poisonous herb that had overtaken the neat wooden beds.
Another group of five from the Community Service interest house (the Co-Op) volunteered at the Kirkman House, a historic home near downtown Walla Walla that operates as a museum and hosts educational programs and community events.
Pam Myers, a long-time Kirkman House board member, supervised the students as they waxed and polished the floors in the entryway, encouraging them to make the task more fun by gliding atop the rags.
"I had them ice skate to their hearts' content," she said.
Back on campus, students wrote reflections about the day on squares of colored paper, which they hung on clotheslines in Reid Campus Center.
One such reflection read, "I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk directly to the family I was helping. Seeing the physical progress we made was incredibly gratifying."
As volunteers hung their colored squares, Medina meditated on the success of the morning's work, which she said often translates into long-term connections between Whitman students and local nonprofits.
"It's wonderful to see the seeds of that happen."