One by one, group by group, Springfield College students trickle out of their comfy beds and make their way to the track. Weary-eyed but anxious, these students, who along with faculty and staff, usually amount to 1,800 in number, sacrifice what basically amounts to a day off from classes to serve the Greater Springfield community.
It is a gratifying site that Charlene Elvers, the director of student volunteer programs at SC, looks forward to seeing year after year at Humanics in Action Day, which will take place on Sept. 25.
“It is really a visual representation of the philosophy,” Elvers said. “To me it’s important to do this early in the year as a way to say, ‘We are an institution striving to live our mission, and here is a representation of that.’ And we’re serious about it. We don’t just put it on paper.”
Humanics in Action Day, which is still going strong in its 15th year, is one of the more recent traditions at SC that grew from humble beginnings and blossomed into what it is today.
According to Elvers, 15 years ago the New Student Orientation (NSO) board wanted to revitalize an old campus tradition called “Creating Hallowed Ground.” At the event, upperclassmen organized work tasks for the first-year students to complete on the college’s grounds.
“It was a way to get them to realize and understand the responsibility for taking care of this ground, the grounds that we all live on,” Elvers said.
In 1998-99, the NSO board worked alongside that year’s Distinguished Professor of Humanics, Dr. Peter Polito, to not just replicate the former tradition, but to expand on it to include service projects in the city of Springfield. In this way, students were not only doing service projects, but also connecting with the city that hosts their college. The first-ever Humanics in Action Day took place on Sept. 10, 1998.
Originally, classes were only cancelled for a short block of time. The service day was such a huge success, however, that not only did Humanics in Action Day continue, but after several years classes were cancelled until 4 p.m.
“As we expanded over the years and started travelling farther out into the city, we needed more time, so we took the day,” Elvers said.
Elvers has been organizing the event ever since she arrived at SC 13 years ago, usually taking on the bulk, if not all of the planning herself. This year, however, she received some help in the form of an intern in SC junior Katie Patrick, who played an important role in the beginning stages of the process.
Patrick worked with Elvers over the summer, which is when the majority of the project recruitment and development phase of the planning takes place. In fact, Elvers begins that all-important phase for Humanics in Action Day as early as late spring. Patrick helped by contacting organizations and institutions to ask them to participate.
“It’s all about just building up from years past what organizations you worked with and making sure that they know that it’s [HIAD] here still,” Patrick said.
Patrick and Elvers organized and confirmed approximately 105 projects this year in order to accommodate the amount of volunteers that participate annually. Although the groups that participate in Humanics in Action Day are receiving volunteer work, they still have to put in some effort on their side to make the day a success because they have to occupy the SC volunteers for around two hours.
“It takes a lot of coordination and supervision on the part of the school or the agency to do something like that,” Elvers said.
Despite struggling to find enough projects some years, the productivity of the SC groups and overall demeanor that they bring to the sites has won over a lot of groups and consequently made Elvers’ job easier.
“Because our groups do such a fabulous job when they’re out there, and they do make an impact and people do continue to serve, it has been easier over the years to recruit those projects,” Elvers said.
SC volunteer groups cover a broad spectrum, from athletic teams, to Humanics classes, to Pre-Camp and everything in between. The projects range from a group of four people needed to help clean up graffiti around the city, to a group of around 100 people cleaning up Reed’s Landing. This year, a significant addition to the list of projects is working with elementary school students to promote college awareness.
“There’s an organized effort in the city of Springfield this year to raise college awareness and access amongst all of the youth in Springfield from elementary school all the way through high school,” Elvers said. “We’re designing college awareness activities and ways for college students to talk to third, fourth and fifth graders about aspiring to go to college.”
The SC mission statement is “to educate students in spirit, mind and body for leadership in service to humanity by building upon its foundation of Humanics and academic excellence.”
Humanics in Action Day has become such a beloved tradition because of how closely it adheres to that statement.
“We’re actually living through our mission statement,” Patrick said.
Although it is the college’s biggest single day of service, Humanics in Action Day takes place towards the beginning of the fall semester because it is not the climax, but instead, the beginning of what Elvers hopes is a yearlong dedication to service.
“This isn’t it. This is just the kickoff and we hope that you end up at a site that you feel engaged [at] and that you meet people and you want to go back [to],” Elvers said.