Owls give back

Class of 2017 wraps up week of activities with 1,983 hours of community service

After nearly a week of orientation activities inside the hedges, Rice’s newest parliament of Owls ventured out into the city of Houston Aug. 24 to give their time and talents as part of Rice’s annual Outreach Day.

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

“O-Week Outreach Day is an opportunity for students to challenge their own personal assumptions about Houston, regardless of whether they are from 5 or 5,000 miles away,” said Mac Griswold, director of Rice’s Community Involvement Center. “The variety of organizations with which we partner for O-Week Outreach Day provides students with a preview of the community-based work that can be part of their Rice undergraduate experience.”

More than 460 students contributed 1,983 hours of community service at 21 sites around the city; that service is valued at $43,904, according to Independent Sector, a coalition of corporations, foundations and private voluntary organizations geared toward strengthening America’s nonprofits.

Of particular note at this year’s O-Week Outreach Day was the focus on hunger alleviation, Griswold said. Projects that supported community gardening and food distribution programs accounted for 246 volunteers and about 1,075 hours of service.

“Students learn from their first week on campus that Rice is not simply located in Houston, but it is a part of Houston,” Griswold said.

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

One participant in this year’s day of service was Project Row House (PRH), which was founded in 1993 as a result of the vision of local African-American artists who wanted to have a positive creative presence in their community. Working with artists and volunteers from throughout Houston, PRH renovated 22 abandoned shotgun-style houses on a two block site in Houston’s historical Third Ward. Today PRH includes more than 20 buildings spread over almost 10 blocks.

PRH’s programs include Public Art, which provides opportunities for participating artists to work together on community art projects; the Art Education Program, which offers participants arts-based classes taught by professional artists; and the Young Mothers Residential Program, which provides a social safety network for young, single mothers between the ages of 18 and 26. PRH also includes the Row House Community Development Corp., which develops housing for low-to-moderate income residents, in addition to public spaces and facilities to preserve and protect the historic character of the Third Ward.

Some Rice students spent Outreach Day painting one of PRH’s community houses, a free space where residents can study, congregate and use the Internet.

Amanda Yang, a Jones College freshman, said she thinks the work taking place at PRH is fantastic.

“I was drawn to this volunteer opportunity because I really enjoyed Habitat for Humanity back in high school,” she said. “PRH seems similar to that.”

Yang said she hopes to become more involved in community outreach during her time at Rice.

Isaac Phillips, a McMurtry College freshman, said Outreach Day was “amazing.”

“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “It’s unique that the Rice students are so willing to do things like this after such a busy week.”

Like Yang, Phillips hopes to take advantage of the new opportunities available to him at Rice. “I’m looking forward to doing more things like this.”

PRH Facilities Manager Robert Hodge said that his organization has been collaborating with Rice on “some pretty amazing projects,” including construction of the Ze-Row House, construction of an InHouse OutHouse for the Bastrop Stuart House and producing a revitalization plan for the historic Eldorado Ballroom.

“As long as I’ve been here, Rice has been here helping out,” he said.

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

AIDS Foundation Houston, where volunteers assisted several divisions in facility organization projects.

Avondale House, where they landscaped, washed windows, disinfected interiors and cleaned exteriors of four agency vehicles used to transport clients.

Best Buddies, where volunteers interacted with residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities through activities, such as bingo and other board games.

Campus Community Gardens, where volunteers prepared three sets of raised beds for fall planting by removing weeds and spent plants, incorporating new soil and turning beds to ready them for planting.

Children’s Museum of Houston, where volunteers assisted with building outreach program learning kits used by museum staff to teach math, science and technology to disadvantaged children throughout Houston.

East Side University Village Community Learning Center, where volunteers assisted with painting and light (supervised) construction projects at the facility to improve usability for staff and client service.

El Centro de Corazon, where they cleaned and organized three storage sheds, including sorting boxes of books for children.

Hermann Park Conservancy, where volunteers weeded and replanted the park’s iris beds.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, where volunteers worked with conservation staff on trail mulching at critical points on their 5 miles of trails.

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

Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees, where volunteers worked with refugees living in Houston.

Small Steps Nurturing Center, where they assisted with preparing a community child care center for the start of the year by spreading mulch on the playground, staining playground benches and moving classroom furniture.

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

Target Hunger, where volunteers assisted with gardening and landscaping in the Kashmere Community Garden, the agency’s largest community garden, by preparing 37 beds for fall planting.

The Heritage Society, where volunteers assisted the curator of collections with a gardening project at one of the historic structures in downtown Houston, the 1823 log cabin, “Old Place.”

The Methodist Hospital, where volunteers were matched in pairs to visit the rooms of noncritical patients throughout the hospital.

The Women’s Home, where volunteers sorted donations and prepare them for sale through the Cottage Thrift Shop, an auxiliary enterprise of The Women’s Home that helps support 14 percent of their programs.

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

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About Amy Hodges

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