September 16, 2021, marked the fifth Change Day at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. Each year — in line with its mission to “Seek Knowledge. Affirm Faith. Change the World” — the university has sought new ways to serve the surrounding community.
This year, the project organizers focused on four service-learning goals: advocacy, direct service, indirect service, and research-based service. Participants learned various ways to engage with their community, whether they were directly speaking up for others and coming face-to-face with individuals, animals, and environments, or were fundraising and finding more abstract solutions.
Change Day 2021 involved 36 locations and more than 700 participants volunteering for organizations ranging from Habitat for Humanity to the Berrien County Humane Society, Neighbor 2 Neighbor, Operation Christmas Child, Pine Ridge Assisted Living, Paris' Purse, and many more. Once again, classes were canceled for the duration of Change Day projects, providing an opportunity for any students to be involved who wished to do so. Though each project offered a different service experience, every individual had the chance to enact meaningful change.
Zoe Shiu, senior psychology major, volunteered with a group at the Niles YMCA, helping spread mulch in the plant dividers in the parking lot. She said she met many new people, all of whom were happy to help where they could. “I thought it was refreshing to do something outside of class that put us out there,” Shiu said. “We were doing something actually practical and needed for the community.”
At Ruth Murdoch Elementary School, Terry Trecartin, a graduate student studying social work, participated with the Social Work Club and other volunteers. Together, he said, they repainted the basketball court and other areas. He enjoyed getting to know the smaller group of people. “I think it was excellent. I always enjoy helping out the community wherever we’re at,” Trecartin said. “If they want to do it a couple of times a year, I’d be on board to help out again another time. It’s fun to do it and a blessing to give back.”
The Red Cross hosted a blood drive at Pioneer Memorial Church with a group of volunteers who either helped to draw blood or who donated blood. Andrew Remmers, senior finance and accounting major, participated in the event. He said he appreciated Andrews’ commitment to Change Day. “It shows Andrews University can go out into the community and make an impact and really put our faith into practice, which I think is super important — to have a faith-centered community but also spread that love through actions,” he said.
One of the year’s biggest projects, Christmas Behind Bars, was sponsored by the Black Student Christian Forum (BSCF) and the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Freedom by Design community service program. Volunteers assembled more than 10,000 packages for local prisoners throughout the day. Both Janine Carlos, administrative assistant for the Department of Church History, and Thandi Dewa, a junior majoring in biology and Spanish, took part in the activity.
As a participant in her fourth Change Day, Carlos worked every role possible within the assembly line, finding a special significance in the act of helping others outside of her immediate community. “I love these kinds of things. I love service, in general … I think it’s important,” she said. “Sometimes, when you work for the church, you tend to do things just in the church setting for church people. And so, a couple of years ago, I said, ‘I need to try to do as much as I can out in the community and interact there.’ ”
Dewa, who serves as social vice president for BSCF, said she enjoyed volunteering with friends and new acquaintances alike. She also found the process to be a significant personal experience. “I was under the impression that Change Day was supposed to be me getting out into the world to make a change in someone else’s life,” she shared. “But as I reflect on the day, I think this actually made a change in my life, and I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity.”
In another impactful project, José Bourget, university chaplain, worked with the Berrien County Cancer Center to visit the home of a cancer survivor and offer yard work services. He recalls, “Before we set out to work at our site, we shared the different reasons why we chose this particular change project. We all have someone close to us that has cancer as part of their life. In fact, one of our students is surviving cancer thanks to a bone marrow transplant,” Bourget said. “We were able to share these stories with Lynda, the cancer survivor whose home we worked at. Then Lynda shared some of her journey, particularly how she has her own change projects of knitting hats for pediatric cancer patients. We were inspired by how our common struggle is fueling all of our work to support the common good.”
AU president Andrea Luxton explained that “ ‘Change the World’ comes appropriately at the end [of our mission statement] because all of our acquired knowledge and all the faith we claim is of little value unless we use it to bring positive change to the world.” She added, “That is why Change Day is so important: it is us at Andrews University saying to Berrien County that we want to live our faith and use our knowledge by being partners in making this part of the world a better place for everyone.”
The first Change Day was held on September 14, 2017, sending students, faculty, and staff out into the Berrien community to paint, clean, inform, and more. It continued yearly, receiving positive feedback from impacted individuals and state representatives alike, all appreciative of participants’ time and effort. The project took on modifications and adaptations due to the pandemic but still found avenues for positive change.
Tony Yang, vice president for strategy, marketing, and enrollment at the university, said that “the work is important, but it’s secondary to the relationships. Existing ones are strengthened, and new ones are formed,” he explained. “There’s something special that happens when students, staff, and faculty come together — putting aside age, rank, titles — and work on something meaningful together. There’s really no other day like it.”
In reflecting on this year’s Change Day, Teela Ruehle, director of student missions and service and event coordinator, said that this year the organizers were hesitant about Change Day because they were not sure how many students would show up to serve. Her expectations were surpassed, however. “I’m so impressed with the number of students, faculty, and staff who came out today to give back to their community,” she said.
Encouraged and excited about the commitment to world-changing on the Andrews campus, Ruehle said it is inspiring to see students taking the initiative to make their communities a better place. “It’s a great reminder that each and every one of us can make a difference in the life of someone else, starting with one small act of kindness at a time,” she said.