A day in which all offices were closed and all classrooms were empty may be noted as the most productive in the history of George Fox University. Normal routine ceased and the campus was abandoned as faculty, staff, and students – more than 1,400 of them – moved out to help in their surrounding community.
The university-wide Serve Day was established by University officials as an expansion of a smaller program that had about 500 new students each year involved in local service opportunities. Now the plan is to shut down the campus each year – for a variety of reasons – among them to set an example for other colleges and universities.
“Doing this allows us to show what service means,” said President David Brandt. “It provides an opportunity for personal growth in the George Fox community. And studies show that if we set a standard of service at the start of the year, students will be more inclined to get involved in service opportunities throughout the year.”
Serve Day also helps George Fox personnel become better acquainted with the many nonprofit agencies throughout the area and the service they provide to others. Twenty-member-teams – organized with a mix of both students and staff members – spread out into 70 locations in the community, spending time with residents in senior care centers, helping elderly with home repairs and cleanup, cutting brush and landscaping city roadsides, building a ramp for a disabled person at home, constructing a skateboarding facility for city youth, helping churches with projects long undone, and distributing information in the community for agencies so that others are reminded of city needs. Projects were arranged by contacting local nonprofit agencies, government agencies and churches.
The idea of encouraging others to commit involvement and service, and making the idea known was hugely successful. The project drew front-page photo and story coverage by The Oregonian, the Northwest’s largest newspaper. It was covered by Portland television stations and received front page treatment by regional newspapers. Thank-you’s flowed to the University from agencies and individuals and through letters to newspapers. “There was nothing glamorous about the work,” noted a university administrator. “But people went with willing hearts, put their backs into the labor, and did it.”
According to Campus Compact, a national coalition that promotes community service in higher education, Serve Day was apparently the first instance of a university shutting down for a day for such an activity.
“It’s crucial that we practice what we preach,” said President Brandt, who spent Serve Day helping paint a house. He said it demonstrates that a Christian education is more than just book learning, and it also means serving a needy world in practical, loving ways. With the success, University leaders already have endorsed it as an annual event, and members of the University Parents Council have decided they want to participate and alumni are asking to be allowed to join with students and faculty.