What was one massive day of community service by incoming freshmen at the University of Rochester has expanded into two Wilson Days this year. On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 30 and 31, more than 1,000 volunteers will paint, collect debris, plant flowers, and even dish ice cream at some 70 sites in the city and suburbs of Rochester.
From Wilson Day to Wilson Days, the tradition marks its 14th year as an essential part of freshman orientation. New urban issues workshops will give students a context for their service projects, and RTS bus tours of nearby neighborhoods will offer the chance to sample food, check out merchandise and museums, and see sights off the River Campus.
Daniel T. Lioy, a senior from Greece, N.Y., coordinated this broader vision for learning Rochester. "We're trying to show students all the assets of Rochester and build a stronger relationship between the students and the city," he said. "We want this experience to be a gateway to city life and student life."
To serve local nonprofit organizations, about 925 incoming freshmen will be joined by transfer students, faculty, and staff for a total of nearly 1,100 volunteers. A day of community service during orientation recognizes its importance and uses it to help freshmen bond with each other, their college, and the Rochester community. Students from the Eastman School of Music also will participate.
The night before students do community service assignments, they'll join discussion groups keyed to their placements: working with the elderly, assisting with youth, meeting the needs of arts agencies. The mix of projects ranges from surveying a southwest Rochester neighborhood to enhancing a mural and park.
Then when they're not volunteering, the students will hop a bus on one of four RTS routes that run on or near campus. Special tour guides on the RTS Bus Runs will give tidbits on history and sightseeing-in the19th Ward, cultural centers around University and East avenues, the entertainment areas of Alexander Street and Park Avenue, and the businesses along Genesee Street-with chances to get off the buses and explore.
"The tours introduce Rochester through the eyes of our students," said Jody Asbury, dean of students in the College, "and the workshops are an effort to add learning to the hands-on volunteer experience."
Almost every student group in the College makes a community service commitment as part of its activities during the academic year. With a fuller understanding of service through their Wilson Days experience, more students will take steps to get involved, organizers say.
Two weeks later in nine U.S. cities, University of Rochester alumni will spread the same spirit with Wilson Day USA in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The event is organized by the UR Involved Volunteer Program of the College Advancement Office.
On Sept. 14, about 150 graduates will work in their communities by volunteering for such projects as organizing a community tool bank or cleaning a beach. In Manhattan, a group will clean Grand Army Plaza where 15,000 daffodils were planted as part of the Daffodil Project, a living tribute of 1 million daffodils for those who died in the World Trade Center attacks.
Wilson Day is named for the Joseph C. Wilson family, whose members have been benefactors of the University of Rochester and the Rochester community. Wilson, former president and chairman of Xerox Corp., was an alumnus and a philanthropist.
A $4,000 grant from the city of Rochester helps pay for materials, and more than 30 organizations, government agencies, and large and small businesses in Monroe County support the program.