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After a week of sunny skies and warm weather, the brisk air didn’t deter over 500 first-years, O-Aides, and house staff from volunteering at 46 different indoor and outdoor sites during this year’s Engaging Chicago Through Service (ECTS) Monday.
Throwing on sweatshirts over their new, yellow ECTS T-shirts, the students spent the day at sites across the South Side of Chicago helping schools and nonprofits with everything from painting to tutoring, gardening to sticking labels on envelopes.
Illinois State Senator Will Burns (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98) kicked off the event at 10 a.m. with a keynote speech in Mandel Hall, where students gathered for the first time in the history of ECTS. Burns assured students that he would attempt to be a “minister of levity,” reminiscing on his own experience of hearing numerous speeches during O-Week.
“There is a certain sterility to the U of C experience,” Burns said, encouraging students to “interrogate that intellectual experience with organic experiences.”
First-years were bused from Reynolds Club in every direction, reaching as far north as the South Loop, as far south as East 95th Street, and as far west as South California Avenue.
“We definitely made an effort to reach out to organizations and schools in Woodlawn…to introduce students on South Campus to the opportunities in Woodlawn,” said David Hays, assistant director of the University Community Service Center (UCSC). Many of the houses in South Campus and Burton-Judson were paired with organizations south of campus to encourage students to get to know the surrounding community.
Trisha Macrae, a first-year from DelGiornio House, spent her day sticking labels on envelopes at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club at East 55th Street and South Kenwood Avenue. While her house traveled north of campus, Macrae said she would be interested in exploring the area closer to her dorm as well.
Hays said ECTS, which has taken place on Saturdays in the past, was able to expand the diversity of project opportunities as well as its geographic scope. While groups have helped at schools in the past—painting and cleaning classrooms and hallways, for example—this year many students were individually placed in classrooms, working one-on-one with elementary school students for the day.
Like many of his peers, first-year Daniel Traficonte decided to attend the service day because his housemates were doing it. Traficonte, who took a year off and spent his time gardening, weeding, and shovelling before coming to the University, was surprised to find himself at a garden again so soon. “I was sick of it then, but it brought back some good memories,” said Traficonte, a member of Alper House. Alper House has a standing relationship with Brickyard Community Garden at East 61st Street and South Woodlawn Avenue, where they volunteer throughout the year.
Fellow Alper House member and first-year Jake Torcasso said the garden was a way to bring the community and the dorm together. “I think it’s like a positive clash between the neighborhood and the community,” he said. “It’s something to prevent the lot from being used for something bad.”
Many students hoped to continue service in some form throughout the school year, although few had settled on a specific program yet and hoped to learn more at the Activities Fair.
And while Burns encouraged students to incorporate service into their careers, many first-years pointed out that they hadn’t chosen a major yet, let alone a way to inject civic-mindedness into their careers.
“I guess I’m still sort of unclear on how you incorporate that into your career if you’re not going into social work or something,” said first-year Jen McPhillips. Still, she said she plans to continue volunteering while at the University.