On Valentine’s morning, it was hard
to say what was more surprising: that more than an inch of snow
had blanketed central Texas, or that hundreds of University of
Texas at Austin students headed out in the wintry weather to volunteer
in an eastside neighborhood. The snowfall was a rarity, but the
spirit of service wasn’t. This is the sixth year in a row
that university students have swept en masse into a local community
to transform it in one day.
volunteers brighten the halls of Allison Elementary with
This year’s event, called Project
2004, was one of the largest single-day student and community-run
service events in the country.
“We started out in 1999 calling it Project 1000,” says
Glen Baumgart, director of volunteer and service learning. “But
people kept coming and coming until we ended up with 2,000 students.”
year may not have drawn the 2,000 expected students, but turnout
was impressive, given the circumstances. Initial estimates put
the total volunteer count around 1,300.
“We were both shocked and pleased to see so many students
come out,” Baumgart
says. “The weather had most people running. I think the turnout
is a great example of how much UT students care about other people.”
2004 is a student-initiated, student-led program of the Volunteer
and Service Learning Center in the Office of the Dean
of Students in partnership with Keep Austin Beautiful. Each year
the project chooses a different Austin community as its focus and
works closely with the people of the community to plan and coordinate
Work centered this year on the Montopolis neighborhood
in east Austin. Original plans had students working at Allison
School and its surrounding area as well as Roy G. Guerrero Colorado
River Park. When the weather made work at the park impossible,
volunteers focused efforts on Allison Elementary.
The school was
abuzz with activity all day. Students painted the hallways red,
the doors green and the poles in the courtyard yellow.
They put up basketball nets and goals. They cleared gardens and
laid down garden paths. They scrubbed tile, dug an irrigation ditch
and raked the pebbles in the playground.
clear brush and trash to prepare for Habitat for Humanity’s
construction of 11 new homes.
In the area surrounding
the school, students cleared brush and garbage, creating huge piles
and filling hundreds of black plastic
trash bags. In a few months, Habitat for Humanity will begin work
on some of that land, building 11 new homes for lower income families.
And when the work was done, volunteers gathered in the school cafeteria
for burgers and veggie burgers, Cokes and conversation.
from the Terry Scholars Students Association sat together on Saturday
afternoon after putting in hours picking up
trash along the road near the school. Their volunteer efforts had
an element of adventure in them.
“We found lots of dead animals and a live snake,” says Jacob
Setterbo, a third-year student in civil engineering. “We
were also having a beer bottle race to see who could collect the
most empty bottles.”
“You do things you normally wouldn’t do,” adds
Kristen Hooge, a first-year student in the Department of Radio-Television-Film. “But
it’s disquieting to see this giant vacant lot across the
street with all this trash. It’s good for people our age
to get out and actually see this. We live such a sheltered university
Project 2004 may be the largest event of its kind on
campus, but volunteering has become the norm at the university.
percent of university students say they volunteer at some point
during the year, and the university contributes three million hours
of volunteer service to the community. The dollar value of that
service is enormous.
Keep Austin Beautiful, partner in Project 2004,
donated the food and drinks as well as the Home Depot funds to
buy supplies and
tools for the event. This year they brought the usual burgers,
buns and beverages, but they ran into a last-minute hitch. The
vendor who was supposed to bring a grill backed out because of
the weather. They had the food, but no way to do the feeding.
2004 leaders turned to one of their own to save the day. Ricardo
Gutierrez, chair of Project 2002, had since graduated from
the university and gone on to culinary school. He was awakened
on Saturday morning by a phone call asking him to come back out
for the cause. Gutierrez rolled his own personal grill down the
street and more than 2,000 burgers and veggie burgers were cooked
by the project’s new personal chef.
was met by applause and cheering.
This type of enthusiasm makes
the event one that students return to year after year. Even as
they dig, bag, sand, paint, sweep and
rake, students have a blast. Laughter is the order of the day.
And the impact of their work is immediately apparent. When the
doors were closed at the end of the day at Allison Elementary,
the school had gone through a metamorphosis.
This brought delight
to the elementary school students who came back on Monday morning.
They, too, discovered the difference a
day can make.
and alumni of Allison Elementary pitch in. Shirley Gattis
(left) attended the school, as did her children. Her niece
Jalia Efferson (middle) and friend Lauren Medina are now
“Everybody is so excited to see color in the halls,” says
Beth Orton, a program manager with Communities in Schools, who
is based at Allison Elementary.
Orton says children who arrived
early started showing other kids around when they arrived. The
school hallways are a fun place to
One little girl said, “Our school isn’t so boring
It’s a fitting compliment after the unexpected
excitement of this Valentine’s Day.
“After this year,” says Baumgart, “we can do anything.”
Vivé Griffith and Joah Spearman