The hallway in the Student Union Building came alive with the excited chatter of voices Wednesday morning as vibrant posters were set up and flyers were passed out for the annual Serve Jackson Expo.
Every year, Director of Mobilization Julie Bradfield and Director of Service and Diversity Initiatives Matthew Marshall collaborate to bring community partners onto Union’s campus to present students with a variety of community service opportunities.
“It is important for college students to be involved in local ministries because it creates a sense of unity between Union and the local community,” said Marshall. “It is also a way for students to gain valuable experience while connecting with organizations and employers.”
A variety of stands filled the building representing local organizations that specialize in everything from encouraging literacy in children to helping senior citizens fight hunger.
Arise Jackson is an organization founded by a Union graduate. One of its programs is Team Read, which aims to provide one volunteer to read for one hour a week with every second-grader in the school system in order to encourage literacy in young children.
“In order to accomplish this goal we would need 1000 volunteers per year,” said Director Linda Austin. “Right now, illiteracy is an epidemic in Jackson. Since illiteracy leads to poverty and poverty leads to illiteracy, we believe that if each volunteer gave one hour of their week to tutor a local second-grader it could drastically improve the socio-economic condition in Jackson.”
Austin said that although the majority of their volunteers are drawn from local churches, it is their sincere desire to see more college students get involved.
Further down the hall, Legon Craighead, Community Outreach Coordinator for RIFA, encouraged Union students to aid RIFA in their attempts at fighting hunger.
“Getting out in the community to help fight hunger opens people’s eyes to the challenges that their neighbors face every day,” said Craighead. “There is nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when one hands them a Snack Backpack to help students see local need in a new way.”
RIFA offers more than five programs to help fight hunger locally as well as globally. Their mission is to reach out with the love of Christ to help people in need and to provide resources for a better future.
“Many students may feel God leading them towards a specific type of service, but may be unsure where to start, or unaware that there are actually people in our community already doing that work,” said Marshall. “The Serve Jackson Expo helps them clear those hurdles, while also motivating them to get involved in all the great work God is doing in our area.”