By Joe Earle

Oglethorpe students (from left) Jeremiah Farmer, Patrick Cansfield and Chris Noonburg prepare to wheelbarrow mulch during a volunteer work day.

Chris Noonburg admitted he’d rather be in bed. It was, after all, only 9 a.m. on a Monday. What college freshman wouldn’t rather be snagging some extra sleep just a few days before classes begin?

But Noonburg, who’s from Savannah, knew exactly why he and 300 or so of his Oglethorpe University classmates were standing in the bright sun in south Atlanta on Aug. 23 waiting to go do manual labor at Grant Park. Noonburg and a couple of his fellow freshmen were assigned to roll wheelbarrows filled with mulch to other crews of volunteers working to dress up the park.

“It’s not my ideal job, but it helps the community,” Noonburg said.

Clara Reinheimer, a 19-year-old Oglethorpe sophomore from Philadelphia, echoed that sentiment as she picked up sticks and limbs. “It’s actually not that bad,” she said. “It helps save the park. It gets us out here nice and early to do something good for the community.”

Just a couple of days after moving in to their new dorm rooms, Oglethorpe freshmen and first-year students took part in the volunteer work day to do their part in the cleanup and gain some community service credits. Jana Miles, director of development for the Grant Park Conservancy, estimated the work volunteered by the Oglethorpe students was worth $22,000 to the park.

The work day, part of Oglethorpe’s freshman orientation, also was part of the college’s public commitment to having students involved and doing good in their community. Oglethorpe officials are quick to point out the school’s promotions call for students to “make a difference.”

“To become involved in your community is very important to your education,” said Tamara Nash, director of Oglethorpe’s 4-year-old Center for Civic Engagement, which organized the work day.

“For students to become fully educated, for students to know the importance of being a truly civically involved and consciously involved person, we want them to know their education ought to include making a difference in someone’s life. These types of programs create opportunities for leadership and ways for students that are less selfish.”

Oglethorpe took seven busloads of students on its first volunteer work day of the school year. Amkia Phifer (right) helped pick up sticks and limbs.

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall, who joined the student volunteers at Grant Park, said the college programmed a volunteer work day as part of freshman orientation to show students that working in the community would be part of their education. “We’re trying to set the tone for what their experience will be at Oglethorpe and what we want their experience to be,” Schall said.

The school has included work days in its freshman orientation for several years, Schall said. This year was the second the group trekked down to Grant Park, in part because it’s difficult to find a project that can use 300 volunteers, school officials said.

The orientation program is just the first of several projects the civic engagement center organizes for Oglethorpe students. Students must take part in a some volunteer events each year, Nash said, and the school joins Hands-On Atlanta, Martin Luther King Service Day and a school volunteer project in the spring.

The center also sponsors other student volunteer projects. Each January, it takes 30 to 35 students to New Orleans to work with Habitat for Humanity to build houses, Nash said. During the spring holidays, student volunteers have gone to Savannah to work on projects there, she said.

“It’s important for you to be able to make a difference,” Nash said. “We take that seriously.”

At Grant Park, Oglethorpe sophomore Christine Hall said she was eager for a little hands-on volunteering picking up fallen limbs and branches.

“We kind of got excited on the bus,” Hall said. “We know we’re helping the community.”

Besides, she said, once they were done, they’d get to tour Zoo Atlanta.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.