By Alie Mihuta
Senior AmeriCorps member and Project Leader on the CSX Transportation Civic Engagement team
On Saturday, October 24, 168 volunteers gathered together at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest DC for City Year’s annual Make A Difference Service Day. In fact, millions of Americans engaged in thousands of projects across the nation.
Make A Difference Day is the nation's largest day of volunteerism. This event first began in 1992 when Leap Day fell on a Saturday and USA WEEKEND Magazine, in partnership with Points of Light, urged readers to spend the extra day “doing something good for someone else.” Since then, Make a Difference Day has expanded into one of the largest national days of community service.
This year, after a collective 504 volunteer hours, City Year DC and all of our volunteers were able to add $19,500 worth of value back to city and DC community. Projects included painting murals, constructing picnic tables and benches, making sandwiches, braiding paracord bracelets, and cutting and crafting blankets for the homeless.
It is appropriate that on the anniversary of Make A Difference Day, we reflect on the impact of our service days and think about the difference we truly are making in the community.
I serve on the City Year DC CSX Transportation Civic Engagement team. My team works hard to plan and execute projects that support and bolster the learning environment for students and staff at any school in which we hold service projects. The CE team does not work directly with students, but we always have students in the forefront of our minds. When we first enter a school to brainstorm different projects for an upcoming service day, we think about what projects, specifically colorful murals, could make the space more welcoming to students and how we can motivate and inspire learning.
Color has the unbelievable power to transform a community. Duval Pierre, a painter who lives in Jalouzi, the largest slum in Haiti, believes firmly in this idea. This man has made it his personal mission to transform the grey mountainside of Jalouzi into a beautiful and colorful rainbow. According to Pierre, painting is important because “after painting a house and it’s fresh, everyone sees that the house is beautiful and they want to live inside it.”
The same can certainly be said for schools – once students see their classrooms and hallways in a fresh coat of color and design, they want to be there. Color has the power to transmit joy and happiness, which is vital to any learning space.
We at City Year understand that a lot goes into education. One needs supplies, resources, and an endless amount of man and woman power. We also believe that students need positive and welcoming environments in order to learn. A new mural with bright and fresh colors has the ability to transform a space and the people in it. I know that color and art are not the only answers and are certainly not THE difference between student success and student failure. However, it can make a difference – one of the many differences that together make positive impact on a student’s life and bring about social change in a community.
When people ask him what difference color makes, Pierre responds: “Color gives us dignity…identity…and hope.” This is what I believe Civic Engagement service days provide for school communities. Our colorful projects really do make a difference.