In the 1920s, new graduates, diplomas in hand, would leave what is now Village Hall to march across College Avenue, climb up the stairs and walk through the newly completed Gateway to Service, which represented their entrance into a lifetime of service. Today, this tradition of service continues as Walla Walla University students give of their time, talent and money for others. "Our students are very mission-minded. They want to make a difference," says Paddy McCoy, campus chaplain.
A Day for Service
For more than a decade, WWU students, faculty and staff have taken a day twice each year to serve the community. This last April, WWU joined with Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College for a joint service day. More than 300 students worked on 25 projects, including planting trees, cleaning up area parks, painting and leading tours at museums. "You get to know so many people, while at the same time helping the community," says one student. This year Oct. 14 and April 18 are reserved for service to others.
Helping Portland's Homeless
For the past three years, 25 to 30 students have traveled to Portland, Ore., during the winter to help the homeless. McCoy says, "I wanted to help create a local mission trip that would be short and affordable for those who couldn't spend the time or money for a larger trip."
Students help the Portland Rescue Mission, mostly with painting projects. They also walk the downtown Portland area, offering blankets, hats, gloves and scarves to the homeless. Last year, about 200 blankets were donated by WWU students and community members. An on-campus knitting group, called the Knit Wits, supplied the scarves and hats. "It has been such a blessing to know that we make things that will keep someone else warm," says Ellie Veverka, Campus Ministries administrative assistant.
Another emphasis of the trip is praying with people. "I love watching our students interacting with the homeless," says McCoy. "Many pray with each individual they meet. Others sit down on the sidewalk and just chat and listen to them."
Katie Wittlake, sophomore, says, "This was my first time on this type of trip. I was nervous about handing out blankets, but I really enjoyed talking to people. They just wanted to share their stories with us."
The outreach this year will be Feb. 12–15.
Building Stronger Connections
"Although there are several organized service opportunities during the year for students, we find many WWU clubs and departments develop their own service activities," says McCoy. For example, automotive students have led a car care workshop for single mothers, and School of Business students have conducted a free tax workshop. "We want to better connect students with all of the service options, so this year for the first time, we will have someone tracking volunteer opportunities with an online database," says McCoy. Bridget Bechtel, coordinator, says, "This database will help us reach out to the community, to form more relationships with people through service. I want to help students get more excited about service."