Baylor Freshmen Take 'First Step' into Community

Aug. 28, 2000

by Lori Scott Fogleman

More than a thousand Baylor University freshmen and transfer students saw what it was like to transform a neighborhood, as they stepped out into the Waco community for the first time during Welcome Week's First Step community service project.

Although service has been an important part of Welcome Week for several years, this was only the second time that students worked in one general area, a pursuit that allows the students and homeowners to see a neighborhood change in a span of about three hours.

This year's project, sponsored by Baylor, the City of Waco, Keep Waco Beautiful and the Area Agency on Aging, took place in the Applegrove neighborhood, located north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 35.

Four members of the Welcome Week staff, including San Antonio senior Megan Harris, spent several weeks this summer visiting neighborhoods and determining the needs. "When we went to homeowners and told them about the project and if they would like help, many asked how much do you charge, and we said, no, it's free," Harris said. "They were so appreciative and thankful that college students would take the time to help them."

More than half of the homes in the Applegrove neighborhood are owned by people over 65 and on fixed incomes, said Jim Cole, a Baylor senior from Wichita, Kan., and a Welcome Week staff co-chair.

"Many of the homes needed work so they could pass city inspection," Cole said. "There was a need in the neighborhood and we had students who wanted to help, who wanted to do something to benefit someone else."

Early Saturday, Aug. 19, students met at the Bill Daniel Student Center where they were transported on buses to a nearby church. There they received their assignments and went to work.

"The good thing about working in the same neighborhood is that you can really see the difference you're making," Harris said. "In three hours, we painted 14 houses and filled 4 or 5 roll-off dumpsters with trash, debris and old furniture. We [members of the Welcome Week steering committee] circled the neighborhood seeing if anyone needed water or tools, and it seemed like you would just turn around and half of a house would be painted."

Harris added that many of the students "really got carried away," painting fences, mailboxes, toolsheds, even carports. "Most of the homeowners were there during First Step. We were told that this was the first time that there was a major cleanup in the area."

Katy freshman Amanda Duncan thought the First Step project was a great way to get involved and help the community, especially when some colleges aren't known for helping the city around them.

"I think most colleges don't really have a big community service project [like Baylor's]," she said. "Most of us did painting and yardwork and you could really tell a difference when we left. We really made people's day and they felt great about their neighborhood. It was a really great experience."

First Step also introduces students to Steppin' Out, a Baylor tradition in which more than 2,500 students with various organizations and groups set aside one Saturday a semester to step out into the Waco community to assist with various service projects. Leaders says they hope that spirit of volunteerism and service-learning will continue to be part of students' lives after Baylor.

"I love the event because it starts freshmen off on the right foot and shows them how service-oriented Baylor is, which is one of Baylor's greatest attributes," said Jon Rolph, student body president and Welcome Week seminar leader. "It's a valuable experience because you leave the Baylor bubble, meet the people you're helping and build relationships with each other."

Vice president for student life Steve Moore also worked alongside students. In addition to the service the students provided, Moore said he's proud of the growing partnerships between Baylor, the City of Waco and other agencies.

"We're working more closely with the city and with several agencies so that the work that we did on Saturday will have a multiplying and ongoing effect," he said. "It lays the groundwork for groups from Baylor to go back during the course of the year and build on what was done in that one day."

Other businesses that lent a helping hand during First Step were Dr Pepper, which donated water and fountain drinks; Reddy Ice; Sherwin-Williams, which donated the paint (homeowners could choose from three base colors and five trim colors); and the City of Waco, which donated the roll-off dumpsters.

Following the project, students returned to campus for a noon lunch and a celebration of service.

"You should have seen them when they got off those buses," said Dr. Martha Lou Scott, dean of campus life. "They were hot, they had paint all over them, but they still had a spring in their step. There was still such an eagerness about them."

Although temperatures reached triple-digits during the student's first step into the Waco community, many are eager to continue to serve others while at Baylor. Much of it stems from the project's final results, said Dub Oliver, associate dean of campus life.

"They see what ccan be accomplished when we focus our efforts to help others in the community," he said. "Because of this first step, many students will continue to be involved in community service efforts throughout the year and the rest of their time at Baylor."

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