The Value of Community Service

By Macy Roberts | Courtesy Photos

Brynna Stubblefield, left, and Macey Davis prepare to help organizations in Pulaski as part of 'Into the Streets'.

Brynna Stubblefield, left, and Macey Davis prepare to help organizations in Pulaski as part of 'Into the Streets'.

Each fall, UT Southern students head “Into the Streets” to give back to Pulaski. Along the way, they learn about the town and build relationships with each other.

According to Pat Ford, director of the First-Year Experience (FYE) program, most freshmen move into campus housing on the Saturday before classes begin the following Wednesday for the fall semester. During those days, known as Welcome Week, freshmen learn about the campus, academics and student life.

Students gather before giving at least two hours of community service in Pulaski.
Students gather before giving at least two hours of community service in Pulaski.

Into the Streets takes place the day before classes begin and allows students to engage in community service.

For five years, Ford and fellow FYE coordinator Laura Morefield have worked with a long list of community partners, including Southern Tennessee Area Arts Repertory (STAAR) Theatre, Giles County Senior Center and Pulaski Parks and Recreation. Students help do everything from picking up trash to writing meaningful notes of encouragement to community partners.

To kick off Into the Streets this year, about 180 freshmen met on the campus green to hear from Linda Martin, UT Southern interim chancellor, about the value of giving back to the community. Then they divided into their FYE classes and headed out to different organizations to give at least two hours of service.

Ford emphasized the importance of students understanding that they are a valuable part of the community.

UT Southern freshman Joe Dangerfield cleans a sidewalk in downtown Pulaski as part of the 'Into the Streets' program.
UT Southern freshman Joe Dangerfield cleans a sidewalk in downtown Pulaski as part of the ‘Into the Streets’ program.

“It’s not just the university, and it’s not just you’re here on campus, but you’re a part of our local community,” says Ford. “We want to make sure they understand that and that they understand the importance of giving back to the community.”

Brynna Stubblefield, a freshman, volunteered with her class at the Wrap Closet, an organization that serves foster families in Giles County, by organizing supplies, cleaning windows and putting together toys and bikes.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this community service project because it shows how easy it is to give back to the ones in need,” Stubblefield says. “I think it taught most of the group, including me, how important it is to give back and help any way you can.”

She says Into the Streets showed the heart and priorities of UT Southern.

“It starts our college experience out on a good note and makes us realize that we need to do as much as we can for a community, which does all it can for us over and over again,” says Stubblefield.

Clockwise from left, Bryson Gordon, George Grice, Ann Basinger with the Giles County Chamber of Commerce, Hannah Lindsey, Alivya Mahoney and Karla Tayebi work together on landscaping in downtown Pulaski.
Clockwise from left, Bryson Gordon, George Grice, Ann Basinger with the Giles County Chamber of Commerce, Hannah Lindsey, Alivya Mahoney and Karla Tayebi work together on landscaping in downtown Pulaski.

While Into the Streets is a required event for all UT Southern freshmen, students from all years are encouraged to participate. This year, about 245 students, staff and faculty participated.

Ford says he aspires to one day have all UT Southern students, faculty and staff volunteer. Eventually, he wants it to go even further by partnering with the city of Pulaski and inviting residents to join UT Southern in community service projects.

“Make it almost a city-wide effort that’s led by the freshmen of the university,” Ford says. “I think that would be really cool to see it grow to a point that it truly is all across our community—everybody understanding the point of community service and serving your community.”

When volunteering during Into the Streets, participants wear orange UT Southern T-shirts. Ford shared about a time when someone in the community noticed this and mentioned that, upon seeing the sea of orange, he had to figure out what was going on.

“I said, ‘That’s kind of what we were hoping for,’” Ford says. “We make sure that we’re making a big splash.”