Step Forward Day buses 200 student volunteers to 14 organizations

More than 200 students gave their time to over a dozen volunteer agencies.

MU students worked at sites across Columbia Saturday to help out their new home away from home during Step Forward Day, a volunteering event geared toward incoming freshmen.

At the event, help by the Center for Leadership Development and the Office of Community, students could work with 14 different agencies to volunteer for jobs including cleaning up streams and parks, acting as a "Big Brother" or "Big Sister" to children and socializing with neglected animals.

"From Step Forward Day, students learn quite a bit about their new home because for many of them [Columbia] is just that," event coordinator A.J. Million said. "It shows them that there are multiple opportunities to give back to the community and that there are others out there willing to do so."

More than 200 students arrived at Tiger Plaza at 8 a.m. and were given a free T-shirt and complimentary breakfast. Organizers divided the students into 16 groups and bused to different locations throughout Columbia.

Allison Heizelman, a member of MU's gymnastics team, was among those students and volunteered to help put together packets and binders for a program that provides preschool for low-income families.

"It wasn't hard work, but there were a lot of things to put together and get done," Heizelman said. "What would have taken weeks and weeks for the women working there to complete, the group of us finished in a few hours."

A site leader oversaw each group's volunteer work.

"My job was to help get all the freshmen and students who attended prepare for their service project," site leader Jacquie Kasner said. "Once at the project location, Big Brothers Big Sisters, I played, talked and ate hot dogs with the kids and the other 18 volunteers."

Central Missouri Humane Society spokeswoman Haley Taylor expressed her gratitude for the group of students who groomed dogs, cleaned vans and completed other jobs for the Columbia animal shelter.

"It would be impossible for us to operate without our volunteers," Taylor said. "They do all the things we don't have time to do. I don't think our volunteer staff knows how important they are."

The volunteer work continued until 2 p.m., when buses arrived to bring the students back to Tiger Plaza. In the hours in which the event took place, hundreds of hours of community service were logged.

"It makes you realize that you actually can make a difference," Heizelman said. "By donating only a few hours of my time, I helped make it possible to provide preschool care for young children whose parents are unable to afford it."

The Office of Community Involvement will continue offering students the chance to volunteer with their "Service on Saturday" events throughout the year.

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