University Cancels Classes, Sends Nearly 1,300 to Serve Community as Representatives of Jesus Christ

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University of Mobile sophomore Kathryn Gosselin and 50-plus-year-old Mark linked arms, twirling first one direction then another, dancing in the center of the activity room.

Beside them, university students in red Project Serve T-shirts worked at tables on crafts with residents of L’Arche, a community of people with and without disabilities that share life together.

“You’re a good dancer,” Kathryn told Mark, a huge smile on her face. “We’ve just been dancing this whole time, dancing our hearts away.”

 Kathryn was one of nearly 1,300 students, faculty and staff at the Christian university in north Mobile County that took a day off from classes on Sept. 25 to volunteer at 63 locations across two counties. It was the 5th annual Project Serve, a university-wide effort to celebrate volunteerism, community and faith. Students serve side-by-side with their professors, coaches and university staff to share God’s love through the skills and knowledge they are gaining in the classroom.[ultimate_spacer height=”25″]

“We get to be the representatives of Jesus Christ, in a real un-churchy way” by painting, cleaning, building, singing and ministering, said UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley at the morning rally on campus, before teams departed to serve. He urged students to connect with those they are serving and “remember that you are being Jesus to them, in that moment.”

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Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson was on hand to proclaim Sept. 25 as “University of Mobile Project Serve Day.” U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne had commended the university’s commitment to community service with remarks in The Congressional Record, saying that, “While Project Serve will only last one day, I am confident the experience will lead to a lifetime of service for everyone in the University of Mobile community.”

Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam, a 1995 graduate who opened the rally with prayer, called the effort “a phenomenal task of service in our community. It means even more to me that it starts at my alma mater.”

Since its inception in 2011 during the university’s 50th anniversary, Project Serve has impacted businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, city parks and countless individuals. 

This year, music majors sang at assisted living centers and a veteran’s home; nursing majors took blood pressures, painted fingernails and visited with residents of Little Sisters of the Poor; education majors tutored children, cleaned classrooms and did yard work at public and private schools; ministry majors and student athletes painted a recreation center in the heart of the city; business students washed vans and painted steps at Dumas Wesley Community Center, and more.

The event impacted both those serving, and those being served.

Amy Lowe, instructional partner at Chickasaw Elementary School where education majors worked side-by-side with elementary students to clean and organize book rooms and a uniform closet, said, “I don’t know if you realize what it means for our students and our parents to see college kids who have a focus and a future come and partner with us.”

Fifth grader Dawn Thomas, a member of the Chickasaw Elementary student council, said, “It’s nice and kind when you are helping somebody else.”

Principal Christy Amick said the experience was helping her elementary students see the possibility of becoming college students themselves. Also, it teaches the children “that it’s important to serve others, and not just serve themselves,” she said.

At Little Sisters of the Poor, a residence for seniors, 100-year-old Sarah Wilder was reading her Bible when a group of UMobile nursing students knocked on her door.

“It’s mighty nice for you all to come here,” she said, as student Sarah Bennett prepared to push her wheelchair down the hall.

Catharine Hardyman, a junior majoring in nursing, said Project Serve brings home the realization that nursing is so much more than a career.

“I enjoy just sharing, and offering the gift of my hands to help others through my talents, abilities, resources and knowledge,” Catharine said.

Senior nursing major Courtney Rhinehart said the day “helps bring the classroom into reality. Serving others and being compassionate, and loving others, is like the way God loves me.”

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At Harmon-Thomas Recreation Center in the heart of Mobile, junior intercultural studies majors Amber Jones and Nathan Collier were painting the entrance sign outside, while students inside painted the auditorium and lobby in bright yellows and oranges.

“Little kids are going to come in and be excited to see the colors,” Amber said. “It’s neat that our school has created something for the whole community.”

Nathan said many times people don’t know how to get started to serve a community or lead a volunteer group, to put their faith into action.

“When it starts with your school, it’s easy to join in,” Amber added. “It’s a great place to start.

For information about the University of Mobile, visit www.umobile.edu or call Enrollment Services at 1.800.WIN.RAMS or 251.442.2222.

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