O-Week concludes with Outreach Day and Welcome Back Festival

A week full of activities to welcome Rice University’s Class of 2018 concluded Aug. 23 with the annual Outreach Day and Welcome Back Festival.

Approximately 500 of Rice’s freshmen ventured outside the hedges to volunteer at 26 local nonprofit organizations as part of Outreach Day, sponsored by Rice’s Community Involvement Center. The event enables students to make a positive impact on the Houston community by engaging in volunteer activities throughout the city.

“Once again, our new students have demonstrated that Houston is not just the place they live while they go to school, but a community in which they want to be active and engaged citizens,” said Mac Griswold, director of Rice’s Community Involvement Center. “Learning to take action of your values is an important part of the college experience at Rice and this class wasted no time getting involved.”

Students contributed nearly 1,800 hours of community service at sites around the city; that service is valued at more than $40,500, according to Independent Sector, a coalition of corporations, foundations and private voluntary organizations geared toward strengthening America’s nonprofits.

Griswold noted that 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.

One participant in this year’s Outreach Day was Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The adults who live (at our Houston facility) don’t get out and about a lot to meet our community members,” said Anne Hopton-Jones, deputy director of programs for Best Buddies Texas. “I think it’s great that the Rice students get to come here and hang out for the day. It gives them exposure to something going on in Houston that they wouldn’t otherwise be a part of. It’s a great recruitment tool for the Rice chapter, which is one of our biggest chapters. And just in general, it gives these residents a chance to meet some of the new students coming in and an opportunity to have some socialization. It’s a great, great thing that we’ve done, and we’re excited the Rice students always choose to volunteer at Best Buddies.”

Stewart White, a McMurtry College freshman who volunteered at Best Buddies, was enthusiastic about Outreach Day. “I think it’s really important for Rice students to get involved in the community and to get outside the hedges and get involved with a lot of different things,” he said “It also sounded like a really good project with really cool people, so it was a win-win situation.”

Elizabeth Denton, a freshman at Duncan College, volunteered at The Center, which is housed next to Best Buddies. The organization provides opportunities to promote choice, personal growth and independence among individuals with developmental disabilities. Denton said the warm welcome she received as a new freshman inspired her to participate in Outreach Day.

“I just feel so blessed to be part of Rice and really wanted to give something back,” she said. “All of the people who put together O-Week did so much for us and were so selfless in their acts, and so that kind of inspired me to take the day and do something for the community.”

Later in the day, Rice students descended on the Central Quad for the annual Welcome Back Festival.

Julie Neisler, assistant director of student activities at Rice, called it “the biggest and best event we’ve had yet.”

“We had more food donors, more activities and more giveaways than ever before,” Neisler said. “With some great local sponsors and vendors, we provided a fantastic opportunity for the new students to meet the upperclassmen for the first time.”

The new students indulged in a vast selection of food, including pizza, chicken and deli sandwiches, chicken wings and strips, tacos and cookies. Much of the food was donated for the picnic by Houston-area vendors. Top 40 D.J. Tony Styles, a radio personality for 104.1 KRBE in Houston, spun records as attendees talked, danced, ate and participated in the many giveaways, which included T-shirts, earbuds, drawstring bags, Zipcar credits and meal cards and discount coupons for local restaurants.

The new Owls also enjoyed a variety of activities, including an inflatable slide, henna tattoos, video games, inflatable tug-of-war and two dunk tanks where students dunked their O-Week coordinators. Neisler estimates approximately 2,000 students participated in the Welcome Back Festival.

Brown College freshman Elizabeth Stone called O-Week “one of the craziest, busiest weeks” of her life.

“I’ve only been here a few days, but I feel like I’ve known these people for weeks,” she said. “I’ve gotten really close to people through all the bonding and different activities, and this is just a really cool way to wrap up the week.”

Imran Bell, another Brown College freshman, said that the week of activities was intense, but he was “really glad I tried to experience everything I could.”

“This is my only O-Week, and I wanted to make things memorable and experience as much as I can,” he said. “I think I’m really going to appreciate it in the future.”

About Amy Hodges

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