By Nichole Stevens
It is possible to assign both monetary and educational value for student community work, said Alicia Price, coordinator for the Center for Leadership and Service. “Our mission is to educate and engage all students to lead and serve the global community,” said Price. “It’s important for our students to be more than just students at the end of the day.”
Saturday, Jan. 17, marked the annual Clifton M. Jones Student Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service at the University of Tennessee. Every year at UT, hundreds of students for Lead and Serve turn out for a day that begins with educational presentations on campus, and ends with community-based education in the form of hands-on volunteer work.
The holiday conference is one of the center’s biggest and events and definitely the most well-attended, Price said, with nearly 400 students working at community sites. Each student spent three hours on site, gaining valuable experience while contributing real, economic value to UT’s community partners too. Price estimates that the Student Leadership Conference’ engagement efforts contributed a monetary value of $24,000 to the Knoxville community, which is the equivalent of half a years’ salary of a full-time staff member in one day.
The event started bright and early at 8:30 a.m. and concluded at 5 p.m. when students were brought back on scores of buses from over 20 different service-sites in the Knoxville area.
The day begins with the Clifton M. Jones Student Leadership Conference held on campus, where students participate in a variety of interactive sessions pertaining to motivation, life after college, team building, multiculturalism, and other related leadership topics in addition to featured sessions focused on serving our community need. With around 30 different programs from faculty, staff, and community leaders, around 500 students in attendance each year are able to gain new perspectives and innovative ideas.
Students are then sent out to their assigned MLK Day of Service sites, ranging from the Knoxville Zoo and Random Acts of Flowers, a nonprofit organization that collects donated floral arrangements and repackages them for local area hospital patients.
“This (RAF) meets a really unique need,” said Brittany Grogan, Office Coordinator for Random Acts of Flowers, Knoxville chapter. “The surprise of a person from the community walking in with a bouquet just for you is really uplifting.”
The students completed small tasks around the warehouse that Grogan says adds up to a big impact for the organization. Students washed and packed away vases, cleared out flowers and moved heavy furniture and boxes of donations. RAF is nearly 100 percent volunteer-driven, and relies heavily on the hours put in by community members.
Grogan, a UT alum, said many students interested in philanthropy-orientated work get a lot of exposure to the nonprofit sector through their engagement in community projects and days of service.
“We’re a very small group and we couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” Grogan said. “Each vase that they wash, each flower that they touch goes back to impacting someone in the community.”
During a group exercise reflecting on the day’s events, Student Volunteer Corey Hodge shared his personal experience in a hospital when he received a bouquet from Random Acts of Flowers. Hodge emphasized to his classmates how appreciative patients are of the gifts and pointed to the photographs on the walls of patients receiving bouquets and the distinct genuineness of their smiles.
“I think … investing in the community in the service portion of the day really speaks to MLK’s legacy,” Price said. “I hope this event is doing him justice. It’s in his honor.”
Matthew Klein, a junior majoring in Nutrition, served as a student site coordinator for the community work sites.
“When we go to a big school like this (UT), people always get caught up in what’s going on on-campus, and that they forget that Knoxville is actually a big city and that there’s a lot of service work that needs to be done,” said Klein.
Klein became involved in Lead and Serve because he didn’t want to be “that kid” who stayed in his room all day. He emphasized being able to meet different people at the sessions, ranging from community and campus leaders to fellow students. Klein said the center’s mission to teach students to become global citizens really spoke to him.
“Getting connected with the community is a really big deal and I think everyone owes back to their community,” Klein said. “I think he (MLK) would be very proud to see what UT is doing here.”
Bradford Reszel, a student Leadership and Service ambassador said it is important to get involved in leadership opportunities.
“Going around and helping community partners and helping the community at large gets people invested in Knoxville and makes it feel like home,” Reszel said.
As an ambassador, Reszel acts as a liaison between students and community partners. If students express an interest in helping animals on weekends, then leadership ambassadors like Reszel partner them up in what they’re interested in. Reszel said community partners in Knoxville are really receptive of having students work with them.
“We’re the UT volunteers,” said Price. “The fact that we go out and we’re literally giving back to our community, I think this is really the epitome of it.”
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The Clifton M. Jones Student Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service were nominated as Partnerships that Make a Difference. Click here to read more.