WILSON, N.C. — College years tend to fly by. Faster than most students ever realize; faster than most graduates ever wish. In these four or so fleeting years, students learn much about their lives ahead. And, here at Barton, they learn a valuable life lesson that cannot be taught in the classroom. Through hands-on experiences, students learn the importance of serving others.
One of the Barton College’s favorite and most anticipated traditions is our annual Day of Service. Held each October, the event kicks off on center campus just after sunrise. Nearly a thousand volunteers huddle together, their excited smiles barely hiding chattering teeth and visible puffs of breath. Everyone standing and shivering knows that the chilly morning will make way soon for heartwarming experiences across the Wilson community. Following a pep talk from administrators, and brief instructions and a prayer from the chaplain, this special day begins.
“As a veteran of the United States Navy, I am no stranger to community service,” said Michael Edwards, a junior biology major at Barton. This year marked his first Day of Service, Michael spent several hours with fellow science students and faculty at the Wilson Educational Forest, restoring trails, repairing signs and structures, and maintaining habitats. “It makes me feel very good to get away from campus and lend a helping hand to others in the community,” he explained. “To be able to put your own life on hold, and instead focus that energy on improving the lives of others around you, gives you such a strong sense of satisfaction.”
Even for Day of Service veterans like Barton senior Hannah Finkelstein, new opportunities to lend that helping hand reveal new perspectives about the people and places Barton volunteers touch. This year, Hannah joined fellow students at the Community Soup Kitchen of Wilson County and witnessed firsthand what an impact this new building has already made on the people who need it the most.
“We learned that some 20% of people living in poverty are children under the age of 10,” Hannah shared. “Actually, that percentage is even greater in Wilson. We’ll see 10 or 15 of those little kids come through the line today. No one should have to live like that.”
Elsewhere in the community, a group of Barton student-athletes who are right at home in the dirt, dug deep to keep one of Wilson’s most recognizable monuments looking picture perfect. The women’s softball team spent the day at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House. Trading bats and balls for shovels and rakes, they landscaped the museum grounds and learned a bit more about Wilson’s rich heritage from museum director and longtime resident Bill Myers.
“We take a lot of pride in having the Freeman Round House right here on Wilson’s east side,” he explained. “It is an important and beautiful way to welcome folks coming into the city. So to have the help of these young women from a college right here in town, is so very special. They are working extremely hard out here today to keep this place beautiful. What they are doing is terrific. That’s the best word I can think of to describe it: terrific. And, I just love their help. I love it!”
Another way that Day of Service leaves a lasting mark on the community can be found – or rather, seen – at Margaret Hearne Elementary School. In a place where desks, doorknobs, and water fountains stand close to the floor, visitors can stare up toward the ceilings to view nine massive murals created by Barton students and faculty. These grand paintings depict North Carolina’s colorful and vibrant cultural history.
“Day of Service is a wonderful opportunity for our students to make a difference in the Wilson community,” said Gérard Lange, associate professor of art. “They are able to apply the skills they’ve learned while acquiring new skills, too. For example, right here, we have education majors working with art majors to create these murals. That collaboration is a perfect representation of what community is all about.”
And “community” is what Day of Service is all about. Barton College and the city of Wilson have long enjoyed a strong bond, with each side committed to the welfare of the other. One person, new to this community but already a proud and visible member, sees service as a wise investment with a lasting return.
“Day of Service brings us all together,” shared Dr. Douglas N. Searcy, president of Barton College. “Today we serve our community, and in doing so, we honor our commitment to one another, uphold our values, and live out our mission. Barton College and everyone here – the students, the faculty, and the staff – have all been given so much. So, it is our privilege to give back. Service truly brings out the best in people, and it makes a profound and lifelong impact on the lives of others. I’m so proud to be a part of this campus community.”