Freshmen Take 'FirStep' To Serve Waco Community

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Sept. 10, 2003

by Haley L. Wright

Baylor University's annual Welcome Week community service project 'FirStep' allowed incoming freshman and transfer students to start off their first year on the right foot. More than 1,200 students and staff gathered early on Saturday, Aug. 23, to begin life in Waco by serving their newly adopted community.

Students and staff were bused in three shifts to East Waco near East Waco Park, where they painted 13 homes in the neighborhood, cleaned up yards and helped beautify the area.

"This year's 'FirStep' was different for me than the past," said Amber Tabaka, a senior English major from Houston and a Welcome Week small group leader. Tabaka has served as as a Welcome Week leader for three years and said each year has changed her life and the lives of entering students.

"The house we scraped and painted was also covered in prayer," she said. "The family living in the home made sure we all had water and smiles on our faces. We closed the afternoon by praying for the family. The emphasis was not on the best paint job in the world, but on the community being built."

The Welcome Week steering committee partnered with Keep Waco Beautiful to coordinate the project with the city and identify the neighborhood where students would work. Once that decision was made, the committee contacted homeowners in the area to see if they were interested in participating and what type of work they needed.

"I was pleased with the participation of the freshmen, transfers and Welcome Week staff," said Clint Patterson, a San Antonio junior and local arrangements co-chair for the Welcome Week steering committee. "Everyone worked hard and built relationships with the homeowners. 'FirStep' is a great stepping-stone to a year filled with service."

Many local establishments contributed to the success of the project by donating materials, refreshments and a place to rest. Sherwin-Williams donated paint for all 13 houses. HEB offered refreshments of water and watermelon, T-Shirts Plus gave volunteers a 'FirStep' t-shirt, and Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church provided restrooms and a place to rest. Other sponsors included Reddy Ice and Community Bank & Trust.

Designed to introduce new students to Baylor's commitment to serving the Waco community, "FirStep" is modeled after the university's "Steppin' Out" program, a twice-yearly mass community service involving student organizations and nearly 3,000 students. "FirStep" was created six years ago to be incorporated into the Welcome Week mission statement that encourages students to balance the intellectual, physical, social and spiritual aspects of college life and become well-rounded individuals.

"The purpose of 'FirStep' is to provide an opportunity for our new students to get involved in the Waco community," said Jessica Truglio, Baylor's coordinator of community service and student involvement. "We desire for this experience to be one that promotes continual involvement in service. The motto of FirStep: It's not a FirStep without a Next Step!"

For more information about Baylor's community service programs, contact Baylor's department of student activities at 710-2371.

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