A unique opportunity that students have at Messiah is the ability to participate in Service Day, happening on April 20. First-year students serve as buddies to athletes in the Special Olympics as part of their CCC class. Sophomores, juniors and seniors have the option to serve with the Special Olympics again, choose another service project to help with or not participate in the day.
The first official Service Day took place in 2000, when the College decided to shut down for the day so students and employees could serve the community. The College had been hosting the Special Olympics for years prior, and many students would request the day off to volunteer.
“We’re one of the very few colleges in the world that closes down for the whole day,” Agapé Center Director Ashley Sheaffer says. “I have literally only heard of one other college that does this.”
The Agapè Center coordinates the Special Olympics and other projects that will take place on and off campus on Thursday. They partner with Area M Special Olympics to put on the event that about 1,000 students will volunteer at as buddies to athletes with disabilities.
“Working with persons with disabilities is a very unique experience. I think it can profoundly impact students if they are open to it,” Sheaffer says.
Sophomore nursing major Kylee Kidwell was a buddy to an athlete in the games last year. She was impacted in a positive way by serving.
“My experience last year changed my perspective by teaching me to be patient through all things, love unconditionally and never take a single moment that I am blessed to spend with those precious souls for granted because they are incredible people,” Kidwell says.
For Kidwell, Service Day is about putting her faith into action and showing God’s love to those in the community.
“It is my hope that through our acts of service, they will be able to understand how loved they are by their community, but even more importantly by the Lord,” Kidwell says.
In addition to the Special Olympics, students and employees have the opportunity to help with 31 other projects, ranging from making cards for children in hospitals for the non-profit Caitlin’s Smiles, to reorganizing the library books at Downey Elementary School in Harrisburg. Students and employees are encouraged to ask organizations if they can come and help with a project the organization doesn’t have the time or resources for.
“A lot of [projects] end up being physical space projects. The benefit of it is organizations can gain a lot from student manpower or womanpower,” Sheaffer says.
While Service Day projects are important, Sheaffer hopes that it will lead students to something more.
“We want students to get involved with Service Day, but we view that as an on-ramp. We really hope that students have a positive experience and want to serve more consistently,” she says.
Sheaffer realizes students are busy, so there are a variety of levels of commitment and ways that students can get involved. Service Day is one of the Agapè Center’s “Plunge Days,” which are one-day opportunities for students to be involved in local projects. They also offer week-long service trips to both domestic and international locations.
“Students really grow in their faith and in their understanding of the world. With their faith in particular, in how they see God and how they understand him in action,” Sheaffer says.
For more information, visit http://www.messiah.edu/info/22526/agapandeacute_center.