During ‘Bearcats Give Back,’ new students are drawn to tradition of volunteering

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Bearcats give back
  • Bearcats give back
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  • Bearcats give back
  • Bearcats give back
  • Bearcats give back

About 110 students donated their time Saturday.

After a few hours harvesting tomatoes for Salem Harvest, Nate Dausman ’19 found the work hard but rewarding.

“I think working harvest is something people should do at least once to gain respect for people who do this for a living,” he says. “It was a lot harder to do than I expected.”

He and several others volunteered at the hunger relief organization Saturday for Bearcats Give Back, a service project day aimed at inspiring them to continue volunteering in the future.

An extension of Opening Days events, about 110 students split off Saturday for a few hours at one of seven sites in the community. Some groomed horses and prepared treats for animals at the Willamette Humane Society, while others painted at human services organization Shangri-La or built trails for the Salem Audubon Society, a wildlife preservation organization.

The day was even more special this year: For the first time, students are entirely in charge of the event. Bridge Summit ’17, Opening Days coordinator, brought back the service day after a years-long hiatus because the nonprofit organizing the event disbanded. Previously open to all students, the event is now intended for first-year students. However, a few returning Bearcats filled open spots during Saturday’s event.

Students reflected about the experience after they completed their work. Some who harvested tomatoes say they became more conscientious about not wasting food and felt good their work would benefit others. Others say the event is an opportunity to become acquainted with students they’ll be learning and growing with over the next four years.

Ellie Nash ’20 says the event was an opportunity to make better use of her time and she plans to do more of it in the future. As a new student, she hasn’t yet established a regular routine.

“I think this is a good opportunity to change that,” she says.

Heather Pearson ’18, a member of Opening Days’ lead team who planned the project, says volunteer work is important to the student body.

Bearcats Give Back adds to the “culture of giving back” at Willamette and give students a chance to “really live out the university’s motto,’” she says.

“At Willamette, there are a lot of people with different worldviews and walks of life,” she says. “But the thing I’ve seen unify our campus is a desire to promote social change, give back and do good. Hopefully, this project will continue to create that sense of community around those values.”

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