JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 10, 2005 – When Susan Wilson was studying at Union University in the 1980s, she had no idea she would stay in Jackson and one day become the administrative services director of the YMCA.
Similarly, little did she know that there would be a fire when she went to work Nov. 1.
A week later, students from Wilson’s alma mater pitched in to rake leaves and weed flower beds at the YMCA, hoping at least to help a little.
“It’s been a big help, especially with us having a crisis,” Wilson said.
These students served on Nov. 9 as part of Union’s annual Day of Remembrance. Each year, the university cancels classes for one day so students, faculty and staff can volunteer around Jackson to thank the community for its assistance after a 2002 tornado hit the campus.
The storm caused $2 million in damage to Union’s campus, and led to an outpouring of support and assistance for the university by members of the Jackson community.
Union President David Dockery said that while the tornado was a destructive event that delayed construction plans for projects on campus, it also had positive outcomes. The tornado refocused the university on the providence of God and led to a renewed appreciation among members of the Union community.
“It also reminded us all of the wonderful friends we have in this community,” Dockery said.
This year for Day of Remembrance, about 750 students, faculty and staff members worked on 55 service projects around Jackson, according to Kimberly Thornbury, Union’s dean of students.
“From computer majors conducting a much needed technology assessment at the Boys and Girls Club to other students helping organize and clean the home of a single, widowed mother with young children, everyone makes a difference in the life of another,” Thornbury said.
At the YMCA, the people making a difference were part of a team of students who will travel to North Africa in the spring as part of a mission trip.
“I enjoyed using the gardening skills my mom taught me that I haven’t been able to use in a while,” Union junior Andy Robinette said.
Wilson was thankful to the students for cleaning up the facility because it reflected on the way the community perceived the YMCA and its administration.
“The flower beds look great,” she said.
The volunteers worked hard during the morning to rake the leaves on the children’s playground and around the front of the premises. After they finished making piles of leaves, they stuffed them in large trash bags. When done with the raking, they weeded flower beds in front of the children’s day care.
The team also bonded and got to know one another better throughout the morning.
“It’s nice to have interaction with peers outside the academic setting,” Robinette said.
Another team of Union students did similar work at Augustine School. They cleaned leaves out of gutters, painted and helped spruce up the school’s nature trail.
“I could have had a day off school, but if we were to relax, it would be to take away from what the community did for us,” Union junior Brody Ferrell said.
Belinda Bain, the school’s secretary, said the help of the Union students was invaluable.
“We depend on volunteers,” Bain said. “Having a day when so many people can come and do so many things, it’s fantastic.”
At another site, a group of 11 students and faculty helped organize the new home of Kelly Nickell, a widowed mother of three children. With a full-time job and three young children, Nickell hasn’t had much time to work around the house she moved into eight months ago.
Inside, the students folded clothes, dusted, cleaned windows, vacuumed and put toys away. Outside, they worked on the landscape and cleaned the garage.
“I hope she’ll be really happy,” Union freshman Janelle Walker said of Nickell. “Maybe it will give her some free time and time to relax.”
For Thornbury, Day of Remembrance is a demonstration of what Union University is all about.
“I think the day of service is a good example of just one way we try and fulfill Union’s mission statement of providing Christ-centered higher education that promotes excellence and character development in service to church and society,” she said.
By Katie Beth Kelley (’08)
With additional reporting by Katie Young (’07)