At sites across Baltimore on Saturday, Johns Hopkins University students and volunteers picked up shovels, trash, weeds, and, in one case, a pickaxe to support 38 community partners as part of the university's President's Day of Service.
More than 800 students, alumni, and community members participated in the annual service day, now in its 11th year. Volunteer sites included a diverse set of Baltimore community organizations, with volunteers working at parks, schools, cultural centers, and even a nonprofit boxing gym.
After their day of volunteering, students were invited to gather in the O'Connor Recreation Center to reflect on their service in conversations with student team leaders and staff members. Volunteers were also invited to learn more about ongoing opportunities for community engagement through existing student organizations and JHU-sponsored programs, including Baltimore First, Hopkins Votes, and the Community-Federal Work Study program, all offered through the Center for Social Concern.
The event included a conversation between JHU President Ronald J. Daniels and Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress who joined Johns Hopkins as a professor of public policy and presidential adviser in 2017. Daniels thanked the students for their service and asked Mikulski to share wisdom—and lessons learned—from a lifetime of public service. Mikulski emphasized the importance of forming coalitions with other area institutions and partners, listening to those with different life experiences than oneself, and committing to your community using whatever skills and expertise you have to offer.
"Your life is going to change while you change the lives of others," Mikulski said. "You know what's one of the best things that happens when you serve? Not only do you do good, you're going to learn that the best ideas come from the people."
During the day, about a dozen volunteers walked along Brentwood Avenue in the city's Station North neighborhood, cleaning alleys and picking up trash. They then transitioned to the main job of the day—clearing brush and weeds at nearby Wonderground Park to prepare the site for the construction of a stage designed for community concerts, yoga classes, and more.
Chris Anchan, a first-year student volunteer, was among those working with the Brentwood Avenue cleanup crew.
"If we're going to be spending four years in Baltimore, it's important to make sure you're getting to know the community and giving back to it," he said. "It's something I think we all should be driven to do."
More than 800 Blue Jays spent today giving back to Baltimore during the annual President's Day of Service. Big thanks to everyone for their hard work and to the 30+ sites across the city that welcomed us to help out. #JHUPDOS @JHSocialConcern pic.twitter.com/ZHcwVCI6A6— Johns Hopkins U. (@JohnsHopkins) September 21, 2019
Nancy Kinlin, block captain coordinator for the Greenmount West Community Association—one of the day's service sites—said President's Day of Service is a perfect opportunity to make the group's cleanup effort more visible.
"Once we start cleaning up the neighborhood, people are more conscious to it," Kinlin said. "After they see us, they start to do their part without being asked to. That's an advantage of today. People can see what we're doing."
Baltimore Community ToolBank, which offers tools, equipment, and expertise to community groups, is known for assisting the volunteer efforts of others. But it takes time to unpack, catalog, and label tool donations so they can be ready for those who need them. Tasks like this are an ideal fit for the President's Day of Service mass volunteerism model.
"Three people receiving all these tools, unpacking them, labeling them, would probably take us the better part of an eight-hour day," said Noah Smock, who works with the ToolBank. "Since we're able to have a dozen people working together today, it's barely going to take any time at all."
Across town at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, volunteers helped clean out the basement, which over the decades had become full of unused furniture, old technology, and items that would be cleaned up and sold at a rummage sale.
For Yessenia Salazar, a junior computer engineering major who volunteered at Eubie Blake, President's Day of Service gave her the opportunity to live out a video game fantasy in real life.
"They gave me a pickaxe, and I got to turn the furniture into woodblocks," Salazar said. "Though I've never used a pickaxe before, I did play 'Runescape,' and in that, you use one to mine. So I thought, 'theoretically, I can do this.' So that was pretty cool."
President's Day of Service is supported by the Hopkins Parents Fund