Students volunteer on Make a Difference Day

While many people in Fresno were waking up and having breakfast, two groups of Fresno State students went to work Saturday morning to help the community on Make a Difference Day.

At Howard B. Holman Park, 54 students painted parking lines and helped make the playground safer by laying down rubber bark in the play area.

A second group of 36 students went to the McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve to help build a trail and a footbridge.

Students started to trickle into the park in northwest Fresno about 7:30 a.m. and gathered around coffee donated by Starbucks.  Student leaders took charge and divided the students into groups to help employees from Fresno Parks and Recreation with various jobs.

“It’s a national day of service,” said Renee Delport, special events and projects coordinator for the Jan & Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning.  “It’s the largest national day of service.  There are people across the country doing projects like we are today.”

Delport said that five years ago the process of picking sites for student volunteers changed.  Prior to that, she said, it would be a different project at a different site with a new partner every year.

The work was good, she said, but the center made the decision to transition into partnerships with organizations that had the resources to work with students.

“It had to be a community partner that had the capacity to work with large groups of volunteers and the capacity to provide necessary equipment and funding for projects,” Delport said.  “We want the projects to be long lasting. We don’t want to rake leaves and go back a week later and not see the work we’d done.”

The center partnered with Fresno Parks and Recreation and Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

Bianca Mancilla, a member of Fresno State’s S.E.R.V.E. (Service Experience with Richter Volunteer Events) Committee and coordinator for the park site, said this year’s projects are the type of long-lasting volunteer work that students could take pride in.

“The volunteers and the community get to see the impact right away,” Mancilla said. “Once we get done here, children will be able to play here the next day.  People will be able to see the parking lines.  You can drive by here and say, ‘This is what I did.’”

Mancilla said the day was a culmination of a lot of hard work.

“It’s a crazy feeling having to coordinate for so many months and then see it come together in one day and it’s done in four hours,” Mancilla said. “It’s really fun.  I love it.  It’s great to get so many students involved and passionate about service.”

Mancilla said the students were recruited with a variety of strategies to get as many as possible.  Making the experience fun, she said, was important to getting students to work early in the morning.

“It’s hard to get college students up early in the morning,” Mancilla said with a laugh. “We try to do different activities. We had icebreakers on the way here in the vans.  We try to get to know each other.  The coffee helps. We want to promote that service is not only impactful, it’s fun.”

Looking around the playground, Mancilla said she remembered what it was like when she was a young girl playing in a similar park.

“I remember falling off one of the swings. That hurt a lot,” she said.  “Actually what a student did earlier, where she went down the slide and it was wet, I’ve done that before.”

Junior Renan de Lima said his desire to do community service started in high school in Tulare.  That passion led him to volunteer for Make a Difference Day and work with a rake and shovel in the park  early in the morning.

“To me it’s all about making Fresno a better place to live,” de Lima said.  “We want to build a culture that we’re proud of where we live.

“I think a lot of time we wait until we’re older to want to make an impact where we live,” de Lima said.  “I think if you start earlier it makes a bigger impact. I think starting in college is vital.”

Delport said it benefits students to volunteer and said volunteering gives college students an opportunity to put their positive outlook on life on display.

“Another thing students often tell us is we have no voice,” Delport said. “Volunteering gives them a voice.  They’re doing something.  They’re making a change. They’re connecting with the community.  The more volunteer work you do, you have a better understanding for the world around you, the community you are part of and the people in the community.”