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Down and Dirty

Oberlin’s regional events calendar could have been mistaken for a homeowner’s “honey-do” list last spring: paint the house, plant flowers, mulch the garden, clean up the yard.

But these otherwise mundane chores, when performed by hundreds of alumni volunteers throughout the country, served instead to benefit public parks, rivers, and families in need of shelter and food. Each activity, be it picking up trash along the Milwaukee River or planting organic vegetables for a Boston food bank, was carried out by a regional alumni club during the Alumni Association’s National Day of Service.

“Given the service ethic of Oberlin, the idea was planted a few years ago that alumni events focused around service projects would be meaningful,” says Colum- bus Regional Coordinator Cynthia Brown ’74. “Each alumni group was encouraged to pick a project that matched its own interests and abilities. A few groups tried this in the past, but this year it became a major national program.”

Columbus alums, in a day suitably called Muck and Mud, planted pond-side seedlings at the headquarters of the Ohio Depart-ment of Natural Resources, while in Kentucky, Obies planted trees to “reforest the Bluegrass.” Alums in Denver and Chicago cleaned and planted in city parks, while those in Rhode Island and D.C. worked in a wildlife refuge and along a riverbank.

Other Oberlin clubs joined forces with existing projects. Alums in Austin, Texas, for example,
participated in an annual walk to benefit a local safe house for domestic and sexual abuse survivors. Boston Obies worked at The Food Project to grow vegetables for homeless shelters and urban farmers markets, while alums in western Massachusetts volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity site.

“I’m always amazed by the results achieved by Obies,” says Paul Wolansky, director of alumni regional activities and electronic communications. “The Day of Service started with some of our larger clubs a few years ago, and it continues to grow. We’re already looking for ideas for 2004.”