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In the Community

Their Home, Our Community

By Maralee Csellar

During the Freshman Service Experience in 2008, students helped teachers at Bancroft Elementary School get ready for the school year.

During the Freshman Service Experience in 2008, students helped teachers at Bancroft Elementary School get ready for the school year. Bancroft is located in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood and serves many Latino families and children.

Before classes begin on Monday, 640 American University students are contributing more than 14,000 hours of community service in the course of three days by canvassing neighborhoods with opinion surveys, preparing meals, cleaning our national parks, and working with children and senior citizens at more than 40 sites across the Washington, D.C., area as part of the university’s 19th annual Freshman Service Experience (FSE).

The program’s 2009 theme, “Our Home, Our D.C.” brings together incoming students with upperclassmen mentors to encourage a strong foundation of public service and aims to introduce AU’s new students to the city they will call home for the next four years: Washington, D.C. Throughout the morning on Tuesday, August 18, students left campus to begin a new adventure.   

These programs and partnerships with the broad network of community-based organizations, national nonprofits, and local schools enrich the social and academic lives of the students participating, and deepen the connections the students have with the city.  The program started in 1990 with only 30 students.  

Students usually come to AU knowing about the monuments, the Capitol, and the White House, but through this service experience they learn about the city and the concerns faced by community residents. Students will work together to better the community, experience the cultural diversity of the city, and learn about important issues facing D.C.'s residents and the city's history and geography. 

Last year, a group of FSE students who volunteered at Barry Farm, a neighborhood in Southeast Washington, saw how much their time and efforts impacted the community residents.  For the rest of academic year, several of them returned to the site at least once a week. The students organized a book and clothing drive and assisted at a tutoring center in the area.     

Continuing the university’s tradition of connecting to the community, students, faculty, and staff at the Washington College of Law (WCL)  this week will participate in the school’s seventh annual In My Backyard (IMBY) service day devoted to public service involvement in the local Washington, D.C., neighborhoods. 

“WCL has a longstanding commitment to public service and societal engagement, and this commitment is an essential component of our law school’s educational mission,” says WCL Dean Claudio Grossman.  “An event like IMBY is a tremendous opportunity to continue this tradition and connect directly with our local DC community in a tangible, positive way.”

More than 200 WCL students, faculty, and staff are volunteering their services at a number of city organizations and nonprofit groups.  Participating organizations include Community for Creative Non-Violence, Martha's Table, and DC Habitat for Humanity, among others.