A gray sky and thin veil of rain greeted more than 180 Multnomah University students as they left campus to participate in Day of Outreach on September 24.
Once every spring and fall, students volunteer at several locations in the Portland community in need of their time and energy. A volunteer site can be anywhere: a nonprofit organization, a nursing home, a school, a community center. MU cancels classes for the day so students can devote their whole morning to service.
Brenna Coy, a sophomore psychology major from Longview, Washington, cleans windows in the dance studio of Portland Metro Arts (PMA), a nonprofit arts organization on Stark Street. Classical music flows out of a small boom box behind her as she moves a ballet barre aside.
Coy says she enjoys volunteering because it encourages her and other students to reach out to their neighborhood. “It builds bridges in the community,” she says.
‘We want to communicate our values through action.’
“Can I borrow some muscles?” a PMA staff member calls out.
“I’ll give you what I have!” replies Dr. Mike Gurney, a theology and philosophy professor at MU. He helps another student move a detached door across the room. Multnomah requires half of its professors to participate in every Day of Outreach event.
Gurney appreciates the opportunity to interact with students outside the classroom.
“As Christians, it’s not just about what we say; it’s also about what we do,” he says. “We want to communicate our values through action.”
Nancy Yeamans, PMA’s executive director, is ecstatic about the bustling around her. A vacuum hums in the background, and the smell of Windex hovers in the air.
“I know you think that cleaning is probably not a big deal,” she says. “But to us it’s a huge deal because we rely a lot on volunteers. It’s meaningful beyond what you can imagine.”
‘Multnomah teaches us to be leaders’
The living room at ElderPlace Laurelhurst, a care facility for seniors on Glisan Street, is a bright space filled with round tables where students talk and laugh with elderly men and women over cups of coffee. Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis take turns on the radio, and one woman with a crooked smile begins to dance with a staff member.
Chloe Gillock, a junior psychology major from Portland, Oregon, sits with Charlotte, an elderly woman with pink lipstick and fingernail polish. Gillock grins as Charlotte pulls a beige wallet out of her purse and begins showing her pictures of her family.
“Sometimes we only think about what we can give, but we forget about what we can receive from this experience,” Gillock says. “I love these people. They have so many stories to share, so much wisdom.”
Volunteers at Harrison Park School on 87th Avenue, their shoes caked with soil, are constructing a vegetable garden for kindergarten classes. Some students level out mounds of dirt, while others carefully design a stepping stone path for children in between the garden.
Alex Anderson, a business major from Welches, Oregon, hammers a wooden board into the dirt to frame a garden box. A self-proclaimed farm boy, Anderson says he aims to praise the Lord through the work he does. Day of Outreach is an opportunity for him to show that form of worship to others.
Although he has been attending MU for only a month, Anderson is delighted to begin serving the community so soon with his fellow undergrads.
“Multnomah teaches us to be leaders,” he says. “It’s so incredible to go out and use the knowledge we’ve been given in the classroom.”
He takes a break from digging a furrow. “People may not come to faith in God because of what we’re doing, but they see us helping,” he says. “And that’s a good thing.”