Service Day holds a special place in the hearts of Lyon College students. It’s a day when we do not hold class and things shut down around campus so that all faculty, staff and students can participate in service and give back to the local community. Generations of alumni can share memories of days of service.
Some recall the fun parities thrown at the local retirement home. Others share about how they volunteered at the local Humane Society shelter, which resulted in them adopting a pet or two. Others will share how they painted murals in town, which are now local attractions. And others talk about the strange items they have found doing cleanup at local rivers, caves and parks. Whatever the story, students have been impacted by service. And all it took was getting off campus and into the community – being with our neighbors – to have such monumental impact.
Spending a few hours on a dedicated fall day is just one way we give back and care for our community. And through that care we are able to give thanks for the partners we have. It is a small way to show our deep gratitude for their support. As we looked to the fall semester this year, we were looking at ways to do more, to give back in a bigger and bolder way. And of course, then the pandemic hit. So plans began to change this summer.
Most people on campus just assumed we would cancel the day altogether. But when asked if it would still be happening, my only thought was “Yes!” And this is where things came together for me. While Service Day would not have that face-to-face, hand-in-hand type of traditional work, I realized it was a great opportunity to remind students that service comes in all shapes and sizes. That we could still show our surrounding community just how much they mean to us and that we are still here to help them, even in virtual ways.
Off I went, brainstorming and bringing the committee together to go over ways in which we could give back. The key for us was to help students realize that sometimes service looks like using your voice and skills you have to help those around you lift up their voice. We shifted our focus from what we can do physically to make changes in the community, to what we can do vocally and mentally to change the community.
It became exiting for us to reimagine ways to serve those in our community. We were forced to think of those around us and in our community who are most in need. And we had to find ways to step up and give back. We will have different levels of service for our faculty, staff and students, but all will revolve around sharing our stories and voices.
The first level of service is to give letters of gratitude to our fist responders — those who are there for every fire alarm that goes off in dorm rooms and the healthcare experts who help take care of us when we are sick. We will also have an adopt an older pen pal program by partnering with the local retirement home. We will have ways for faculty, staff and students to write to the legislative leaders in our area. We will give them the time and space to openly address concerns and items that need improvement for our small part of the Ozark Mountains. Thinking even larger, we will partner with some apps like Be My Eyes, which helps connect blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a video call. Or The Human Voicebank, where we will record our voices to be used in assistive technology for those who are unable to vocalize. There will also be groups downtown who will paint curbs and community murals and help clean up.
When we first thought about the daunting task of moving service online, we knew we were facing a big challenge, but thankfully we have found creative ways to use our voice in service of others. And through these new ways of serving we are not only able to help those around us, but to reach out to larger groups of those around us — even those we might not yet know.
An event that is so personal, that is a true identity marker of our campus, is finding new life and energy, all due to the fact that we had to adapt and overcome the pandemic. We are broadening our definition of what it means to serve others, which will help our students continue to grow in a life of service one they leave this place.
MAGGIE ALSUP lives on iced coffee, believes that Disney movies are for all ages, is obsessed with hippos and loves living in the foothills of the Ozarks. She currently serves as the chaplain at Lyon College, in Batesville, Arkansas, where she helps empower and equip students for the life and ministry of the church universal.