The Community Service Leadership Council (CSLC) hosted its 13th annual Athens Beautification Day on Sunday, April 9. Over 800 volunteers spent the day cleaning up various sites around Ohio University and the greater Athens area.
The goal of the event is to encourage Ohio University students to become involved with the Athens community, and to give back to where they live.
This year, Athens Beautification Day was preceded by Athens Beautification Week. CSLC partnered with Greek life and Athens-based nonprofit organizations in order to draw attention to Athens Beautification Day, and connect to a larger portion of the community. This included fundraising for the River Road Rabbit Rescue and a dunk tank event with the Chi Omega sorority.
Other environmentally-focused events are taking place in Athens throughout April to celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day, such as seed giveaways, a sustainability film series at the Athena Cinema and a march for science.
Editor’s note: In a nod to the Thanksgiving holiday, reporters for the Shopping section of Court Street Stories have decided to “shop” for a local charity. What better way to say “thanks” than to find an organization worthy of a donation or volunteer work? What’s the UCM?
Religious institutions have the reputation of being exclusive and righteous to a fault. The United Campus Ministry in Athens couldn’t be more different than that.
Supported entirely by a few local congregations and personal donations, it accepts people from any faith or non-faith. Their mission is to engage the community in spiritual growth, community service and work for justice, guided by socially progressive and interfaith values.
UCM facilitates cooperative activities and discussions among people of varying, sometimes contradictory, faiths. How can a Christian and a Satanist agree on anything about religion? Rev. Evan Young, Campus Minister, says it’s all about open discussion. “We encourage understanding each other and in doing so, we understand ourselves better,” he said. “We all have the same questions: What happens to us when we die? Why do we suffer?”
The United Campus Ministry would love for you to participate in these discussions and/or get involved in their volunteering efforts this holiday. Here are just a few ways to contribute.
Thursday supper and Saturday lunch
Student and community volunteers work together to plan, prepare, set-up, and serve free, hot, nutritious meals for low-income community members. Every Thursday and Saturday.
Interfaith impact student organization
Interfaith dialogue facilitated by Rev. Young, every Thursday night (7:30-9)
An award-winning campaign that focuses on environmental justice and food insecurity in Athens County. Students have raised money and awareness for local and international organizations including Charity Water, the SE Ohio Foodbank, and Community Food Initiatives.
Alternative break trips
Winter break trips have included Witness for Peace delegations to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; Pine Ridge Reservation, post-Katrina New Orleans, US-Mexico border, and Washington D.C. Available to all students.
Think all college students are apathetic moochers who subsist on Ramen and reality TV? Think again. A group of students at Ohio University are dedicating their Thursdays and Saturdays to whipping up home-cooked meals to serve and share with members of the local Appalachian community.
This is all happening at UCM, United Campus Ministry, an Athen’s non-profit center for spiritual growth and social justice.
Evan Young, who serves as pastor at UCM, and whose deep, reflective voice reminds me of Morgan Freeman’s, expressed the importance of students “being face to face with, in service to, and in community with people that they might not meet otherwise. People who are on the margins in one way or another. Whether they’re economically disadvantaged or struggling with mental illness… Our meals are one of the places in Athens where the community and campus come together and they can talk and get to know each other. It’s pretty easy for students to come to Ohio University… and not really have any sense of what it means to be in Appalachia.”
But students who spend time at UCM are getting a sense of what it means to live in Appalachia. They’re getting a sense of what it’s like to live in Athens as a person, and not just as a college student.
OU sophomore Lacee McKinney, a student of anthropology and classical literature, spoke passionately to me that, “It’s important… to volunteer anywhere simply because it gets you out of your comfort zone. It does! It’s a different experience with different types of people. Because when you’re on campus you really only see people (who are) 18-24, maybe: all day, every day. But then when you volunteer you get out into the community.”
As a free-meal intern, McKinney helps to plan the bi-weekly meals based on the produce that UCM receives from CFI (community food initiative). In addition to meal planning, interns organize volunteers and make sure cooking, serving, and clean up goes (relatively) smoothly.
The meals are hosted in UCM’s basement dining room which is equipped with a well-worn kitchen where the clang of pots and pans and volunteers’ laughter can be heard spilling out of the small space.
You wouldn’t think a basement would be a homey place to eat your dinner, but the lively hum of regular guests and volunteers greeting each other and sitting down to enjoy beans and rice, salad, and freshly baked “apple crisp” – a weekly favorite – make the humble space feel warm and cozy.
Young said, “It would be easy for us to serve free meals that just focused on getting food into recipients. That’s not really the point of the free meals here. Yah, we like to serve food; but what’s most important is the community that we serve: the sense of belonging and acceptance, the way it feels when you walk into the basement and people recognize you and they’re happy to see you and they make sure that you’re comfortable. That’s what we mean when we say community meal.”
A handmade sign on the bright-turquoise painted cupboards in UCM’s kitchen reads, “This is a radically inclusive space. That means everyone – even zombies are welcome.” UCM is unique in that its a non-denominational, or interfaith spiritual growth center. Interfaith means that “all faiths and no faiths” are welcome.
UCM is also a “safe-zone,” meaning that it actively supports and advocates for Athens’s LGBT community.
I asked Josh Baron, a red-bearded ceramics student and free-meal intern, what made him keep coming back to UCM. Josh laughed before responding, “what keeps me at UCM is the welcome culture, the accepting culture: the loving attitude that you get from just about everyone who walks through the door. And that’s something that I haven’t found anywhere else, ever.”
Thursday Supper: 5:30 p.m. Volunteers can come at 3:00 p.m. to help cook.
Saturday Lunch is served at 1:30 p.m. and volunteers come at 11:00 a.m.
Students can email email@example.com to volunteer.