By Kimberlee Hauss
A cold, overcast morning with no classes would normally translate into a lazy day inside for most college students, but on Nov. 2, more than 1,000 in the Union community decided to serve in 63 projects around the city of Jackson for the university’s eighth annual “Campus and Community: A Day of Remembrance and Service.”
Originating after the November 2002 tornado hit Union, the service day is an opportunity to “give back to the community and show our love and support,” said Karen Taylor, assistant director of student leadership development and student programs and leader of the event.
Gary Carter, senior vice president for business services, said the 2002 tornado damaged four residence buildings and the former Hurt Commons. The total damage was around $2.7 million. The F-4 tornado that struck Union Feb. 5, 2008, “destroyed approximately 65 percent of our residence complexes and caused some level of damage to every building on campus,” Carter said.
Total damage exceeded $40 million in 2008.
Dr. David S. Dockery, university president, said, “Each time the university was able to rebuild with the help and support of hundreds, even thousands, of volunteers who came to our rescue as agents of grace in our dark hour.
“The Day of Remembrance allows us as a university community to give back to those who supported us and to offer service to others as an indicator of our genuine gratitude for help in days past.”
Students, faculty and staff participated in the projects across the city, performing a variety of tasks, from raking leaves to visiting with the elderly in nursing homes. Campus Ministries selected local schools, non-profit ministries and churches where groups could volunteer.
Many discipline-specific units chose projects pertaining to their major. For example, Dr. Stephen Carls, university professor of history and department chair, led Phi Alpha Theta, a history honor society, on a project to restore two historic buildings at Casey Jones Village.
Organizations such as Student Activities Council, Mosaic and Students In Free Enterprise participated together. SAC volunteered at Regional Inter-Faith Association, Mosaic went to Mission Convalescent Home and SIFE served at West Middle School. Athletic teams, such as the women’s soccer team, served alongside one another at Parkview Montessori School.
Sororities and fraternities also reserved projects for their chapters. The men of Alpha Tau Omega helped Habitat for Humanity, and the women of Kappa Delta volunteered with Youthtown and the Carl Perkins Center. Several clubs have built relationships with specific locations and help there each year.
LIFE Groups, freshmen small groups that meet weekly, comprised a large percentage of the projects as well. Three LIFE Groups served in schools, two helped local churches, two volunteered with non-profit organizations, one visited an assisted living place and two worked with habitat organizations.
Although students from every class participated in the event, it took on a special meaning for seniors – the only class to experience the February 2008 tornado.
Savannah Whitted, senior chemistry major, said she remembers sitting in her dorm room working on calculus shortly before the storm hit. Her roommate, Emma Robertson, senior theater and music education double major, returned minutes before they noticed the weather looked threatening enough to seek shelter in their bathroom.
“When we realized what was happening, the wall was in on us and the door was shut and we couldn’t open it,” Whitted said.
Trapped inside, they waited for firefighters to cut a hole in the bathroom wall through which they crawled to safety. Whitted and her roommates lost many of their clothes and possessions, but said the citizens of Jackson were eager to help in any way possible.
“The tornado… affected not only Union but a lot of members of the community of Jackson,” Whitted said. “They reached out to us in so many ways after the tornado to help us get back on our feet. They opened their homes to us, provided all kinds of clothes and furniture and helped us get back to school. That was just an incredible act of kindness from the community.”
As Whitted served at Jackson Meadow Retirement with the women of Chi Omega, she did so with the memory of her tornado experience fresh on her mind.
“As (seniors) serve… we are giving back to the community for all that they gave to us in 2008,” Whitted said.
Although freshmen, sophomores and juniors did not attend Union during either tornado, Dockery said the day of service “presents an opportunity to tell the generations following of what God has done for Union University in these previous times so as to connect the students through the powerful witness of shared story and shared service.”
Spencer Connatser, junior Christian studies and French double major, served with SAC at RIFA, sorting food for the children’s snack backpack program.
“(Campus and Community day) is a good opportunity to get off campus and reach out to people,” Connatser said. “We don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to get to do that at school so we need to take every advantage we have to get off campus and share the love of Christ to the city that we live in.”