Neighbors: Illinois College students, community benefit from day of service
IC's annual Hilltop Day of Service gets first-year students acquainted with community through volunteer work.
By David Blanchette
This article appeared in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier on Sep. 13, 2021.
A small army invaded Jacksonville on Aug. 29, and residents welcomed the troops — clad in blue-and-gray T-shirts — with open arms.
Illinois College’s 27th Hilltop Day of Service put more than 270 new students into the community for an afternoon of volunteer service as part of their IC experience.
“It’s an awesome day for everyone to come out and support the community,” electrical engineering major Juan Esparza of Blue Island said as he stained playground equipment at Presbyterian Day Care Center. “I feel that you should always help everyone, whether it’s your neighbors or just around town.”
The annual service day, previously named Service Blitz, is a tradition that marks the beginning of the new academic year at IC. First-year students, transfer students, student leaders, faculty and staff from IC completed a variety of service projects in the community that included painting, landscaping, general cleaning and other tasks.
Engineering major Gabriel Minton of Milford didn’t expect hosing out trash cans to be part of his college experience, but he was happy to perform volunteer service in the community.
“I didn’t really know we had to do this when I signed up for college, but I like doing it,” Minton said. “We are helping the day care clean up some of their stuff to make it look nice and keep it clean for the kids. It makes me feel good.”
Jacksonville native Halle Maul prepared railings to receive paint, utilizing the spirit of volunteerism for which she was prepared during high school.
“At Routt Catholic High School, we had to do service hours and I enjoyed those a lot,” said Maul, an education major who wants to be a history teacher. “We get to help around the community and I definitely feel like we are helping some of the smaller businesses that need it.”
A crew of men, including Springfield accounting major Alex Harden, scrubbed daycare center vans inside and out during the Day of Service.
“I’ve got a little brother at home who goes to day care and it feels good to do this,” Harden said. “Because when he has a good experience and I can make sure that other kids have that, I’m giving back to a younger generation. As a Springfield resident I’m not too far from here, so being able to go out into a community and see how it all works and help them out feels good. In high school I volunteered at a food pantry for a couple of years. I’m definitely accustomed to doing stuff to help out the community.”
Over at the old post office building, the site of the soon-to-open Jacksonville Area Museum, Montreal, Canada, native Katerina Maniatis joined about 10 other students to move boxes of artifacts and do some cleaning.
“I love giving back and I love helping other people,” said Maniatis, a biology major who plans to attend medical school. “We all need to help each other.”
Classmate Hannah Wiggins of Springfield, a biology major who wants to be an anesthesiologist, squeezed in some learning while she volunteered at the museum building.
“For me it was really cool because I got to see some older yearbooks and other things. It’s really cool to see how people were before we were here,” Wiggins said. “It feels great to know that I am helping somewhere. To me this is also meaningful, because it’s seeing the rich history of the town and learning about the culture.”
Ryan Flynn is a 2015 IC graduate who now is the college’s director of community-engaged learning. He spent Aug. 29 traveling to the various sites where Day of Service volunteers were working, including the Gov. Duncan mansion, Presbyterian Day Care Center, Bob Freesen YMCA, Protecting Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Morgan County Fairgrounds, Woodlawn Farm, Prairie Land Heritage Museum, Jacksonville Public Library, Jacksonville Area Baseball, Educational Day Care Center, Jacksonville bike trails, Jacksonville Area Museum, Minnie Barr Park, Jacksonville Area Center for Independent Living and Our Redeemer Day Care.
“This day was a chance for students to get out into the community and get to know Jacksonville a little bit better,” Flynn said. “It’s a chance to get them to different organizations they may not have a chance to interact with during their time at Illinois College. We hope they can connect with some of the sites and then come back for internships or be volunteers throughout their next four years.”
Students’ reactions to the work they performed during the Day of Service were mixed, ranging from “that was the hardest day I’ve had in a while” to “this really helped me to know what happens in the Jacksonville community,” Flynn said.
It’s not just about volunteering. It’s also about teaching students to be leaders.
“We pride ourselves in trying to give students leadership opportunities and get them involved with service, so we use this as a jumping-off point,” Flynn said. “This is the first chance that we get to send students out into Jacksonville, and they will volunteer over the next four years and do all kinds of different leadership activities.”
Illinois College has been nationally recognized for its sustained commitment to service. The college earned a top ranking from Washington Monthly for community service-based learning in the Midwest.