Class of 2016 wraps up week of activities with more than 1,646 hours of community service

After nearly a week of orientation activities, Rice’s newest Owls ventured outside the hedges last Saturday to give their time and talents as part of Rice’s annual Outreach Day.

Sponsored by Rice’s Community Involvement Center (CIC), Outreach Day gives students an opportunity to make a positive impact on the Houston community by engaging in volunteer activities throughout the city.

“Many of our students have previous volunteer experience but are unaware of the needs in their new community or don’t have any connections to Houston organizations,” CIC Director Mac Griswold said. “O-Week Outreach Day is a chance for them to re-engage with social issues that they find compelling.”

The students contributed approximately 1,646 hours of community service, valued at $35,882, according to Independent Sector, a coalition of corporations, foundations and private voluntary organizations that works to strengthen America’s nonprofits.

Outreach Day has been a longtime staple of the orientation experience for Rice University students, Griswold said.

“Much of O-Week focuses, as it should, on internal community building and academic advising; this part of the week looks at building external relationships,” he said. “This is true in terms of connecting students from different colleges, but also connecting them to off-campus nonprofit organizations.”

It’s not difficult for students to connect with an organization, thanks to the diverse mix of Outreach Day participants. The groups involved represent a combination of long-term community partners and new organizations, Griswold said.

One participant in this year’s day of service was the Houston chapter of Best Buddies, a national organization dedicated to establishing a volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-on-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Rice students who volunteered with Best Buddies spent the day interacting with the adult residents, who live and work at the center.

“They’re carrying on conversations, getting acquainted with them, playing games,” said Anne Hopton-Jones, the Best Buddies program supervisor. “It’s a really fun day and a chance for Rice students to get to know people they might not otherwise meet in the Houston area.”

McMurtry College freshman Leah Topper said she was involved in her hometown and really wanted to do Outreach Day. “I really wanted to see what Houston has to offer,” she said. “This seems like a really good way to start off and get to know what is available here.”

“This is one of our great resources that we have to help others and to give back,” said Wiess College freshman Max Guercy. “Being at O-Week was a great time, but it’s great to get to step outside of Rice and see Houston.”

Rice upperclassmen, faculty and staff assisted the volunteers at the project sites, which also included:

AniMeals on Wheels, a program of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston that provides seniors with more than 7,000 pounds of food for their pets.

The Beacon, Cathedral Health Outreach Ministry’s day center. Students assisted with meal preparation and serving and washing and folding laundry for the organization’s clients.

Catholic Charities Donation Warehouse. Volunteers helped organize and sort donations to Catholic Charities clients (refugees, women and children).

DePelchin Children’s Center. Volunteers assisted with sorting and organizing toys and clothing at the center’s Donation Station.

East Side Village Community Learning Center. Volunteers helped prepare the school for the coming year by purging old paper files and cleaning the area of items that are ready to be stored.

The Heritage Society. Volunteers assisted the building’s curator and painted the fence around the perimeter of one of Houston’s oldest homes.

Hermann Park Conservancy. Volunteers assisted with a number of outdoor projects to enhance the beauty of the facility and help maintain a native habitat, including weeding, watering saplings and pruning plants.

Hostelling International. Volunteers did landscaping for the Morty Rich Hostel in Montrose.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Volunteers used gardening tools to remove invasive plant species from the arboretum.

Houston Food Bank. Volunteers sorted donated food items, prepared food drive boxes and checked the quality of donated items for distribution to low-income families.

Magnificat House Inc. Volunteers worked in the Loaves & Fishes soup kitchen and assisted with food preparation and other chores and served food to more than 200 clients.

Nehemiah Neighborhood Center. Volunteers weeded flower beds and spread mulch around the play area of a neighborhood childcare center.

Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees. Volunteers worked with newly arrived refugees living in southwest Houston.

Small Steps Nurturing Center. Volunteers painted the fence around the perimeter of the school; cleaned, covered and installed car seats; and cleaned classroom furniture and the cafeteria tables.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Volunteers assisted in sorting donations and preparing them for distribution. They also assisted in the retail area and in stocking the pantry.

Star of Hope Mission. Volunteers assisted with preparing and serving lunch to clients.

Target Hunger. Volunteers assisted with a food fair by sorting, packing and distributing produce to clients.

West U. Senior Services. Volunteers assisted with planting and replacing landscaping at the Community/Senior Services Building in West University Place.

For more information on service opportunities at Rice, visit http://cic.rice.edu.

About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.