Students give back to community for Black History Month day of community service

Students spent the day volunteering at non-profits across DC

Students give back to community for Black History Month day of community service
Students volunteer with the Center for Community Engagement and Service's Black History Month community service day.

American University students had the chance to give back to the D.C. community by volunteering across the city on Feb. 16 as part of a community service event held in honor of Black History Month. 

The Center for Community Engagement and Service organized the event as part of its One-Day Service Events program, which aims to connect members of the AU community with short-term service projects in D.C. Participants in this event were sent to one of five volunteer locations at various nonprofits and organizations where they completed a range of activities designed to help D.C.’s unhoused and low-income population. The event was co-sponsored by Brother Brother, the Asian American Student Union and the African Students’ Organization. 

Fanta Aw, the vice president of undergraduate enrollment, campus life and inclusive excellence, addressed the student volunteers before the activities began to explain the event’s purpose. 

“We have so much to learn from our nonprofits who are working with the communities,” Aw said. “So this is really an opportunity for you to gain some additional education.” 

One of the locations students visited was Bread for the City, a nonprofit that provides food, clothes, medical care and other resources to low-income D.C. residents. Volunteer Engagement Coordinator Esther Adetayo said that their mission is to help the people of D.C. not only survive but thrive through pursuing social justice initiatives. 

“When [Bread for the City] opened their doors, they had this mission of fighting racism by tackling poverty, and they still do it today,” Adetayo said. “Some of the ways that they do it is by having a medical and legal department, and we have a food and clothing advocacy team.” 

Students at this site worked in the food pantry prepping bags of non-perishable food. According to Adetayo, the organization sends out between 500 and 1,000 bags of food per day, an undertaking that she said is tied to its goal to “reduce the burden of poverty” on residents. 

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Students at Bread for the City spent the day filling bags with non-perishable food.

Like Bread for the City, the organization So Others Might Eat works to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing material aid and advocating for the individuals it serves.

For School of International Service freshman Tamara Quinlan, who spent her day making toiletry bags with So Others Might Eat, service is a central part of life.

“I started volunteering when I was 13, and I have continued the path of working toward the greater good since,” Quinlan said. “Nowadays with COVID and the havoc that it has caused, it is essential to put others before yourself.”  

Some volunteers offered their services at LAYC Career Academy, a tuition-free adult charter school serving students ages 16-24 years old to prepare them for college and the workforce. The career academy provides college prep classes and personalized academic assistance to help their predominantly Black and Latino students build a successful pathway to college and careers. 

Volunteers at this site spent their time painting a staff lounge as part of a quarterly project to “beautify” the rooms of the building, according to recruitment specialist Steven Blanco.  

“We just moved into this building four years ago, and it was a church before,” Blanco said. “Transitioning a church into looking like a school has taken a lot of time and resources.” 

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Students stand in front of a wall they painted as part of a process to “beautify” the LAYC building.

Blanco also mentioned that the academy is in the process of developing a hybrid learning option to accommodate its students after seeing a decline in enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Since coming back, we have transitioned to virtual learning,” Blanco said. “We were planning to become a hybrid school over the next seven years, but because of COVID we did it in one.” 

Work-study graduate assistant Canaan Rodriguez, who works with CCES and helped with the painting, said that he appreciated being able to see the impacts of volunteer work at the ground level. 

“I don’t get to go out much to our partner sites, since I’m mostly in the office,” Rodrigues said. “Every now and then, it’s good to get back out there because it’s easy to get disconnected from what you do.”  

Some students, like SIS freshman Daria Morris, volunteered at D.C. Public Charter School, where they cleaned the school grounds and community garden. 

“Multiple staff members and even some construction workers said ‘thank you’ to us and said they really appreciated what we were doing, so that felt pretty good,” said Morris after finishing the job. 

Morris said students could make a bigger impact by actively trying to learn about the many organizations in D.C. that need more assistance. 

“The D.C. community does have a lot of areas that need help and there are so many students here who have the help to offer,” she said. “If students in D.C. could find ways to contact those organizations in a very straightforward manner, I feel like that would really help us give back to the community.” 

In her address from the beginning of the event, Aw reminded students that volunteerism is a necessary obligation to their community. 

“Service is the rent we pay for being on this earth,” she said. “It’s not a nice thing to do, it’s a responsible thing to do.” 

Correction: The spelling of Esther Adetayo's last name and title have been corrected.

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