Ohio Northern students make a difference in their new community on Ada Civic Engagement Day.
For the second year in a row, Ohio Northern University asked its incoming freshman class for a gesture of goodwill toward their new home, to give back to the community before receiving anything from it for themselves. And for the second year in a row, ONU students answered the call with enthusiasm and purpose and made the second annual Ada Civic Engagement (ACE) Day a success and the village of Ada an even more beautiful place.
Any time a community the size of Ada receives an influx of population with the traits of an ONU freshman class, it can’t help but be buoyed by their mere presence. ONU students are high achieving, hard working, intelligent and socially aware. Apply those traits to actions like those witnessed on ACE Day and you’ll see a transformative effect on a community that is hard to ignore.
And so it was on this first Saturday of these young college careers. From 10 a.m. to noon, groups of white T-shirted volunteers were seemingly everywhere —cleaning, trimming, painting, mending and just generally making things better.
“ACE Day is just a wonderful way for our new students to shake hands with the community of Ada and to become involved with a very important value at the University, which is service,” says ONU President Dan DiBiasio, himself an ACE Day volunteer.
More than 300 students, faculty and staff members volunteered at 25 ACE sites, which ranged from local businesses, to the public commons, to private residences. In fact, there were actually more volunteers than sites in Ada, so some students worked in the in nearby communities of Arlington, Alger and Bluffton. But clearly, the focus was on building a positive relationship between the students and their new home.
“It’s important for our students to understand that they are part of the greater Ada community in addition to being ONU students,” says Jennifer Lambdin, ONU’s director of student involvement and coordinator of the ACE event. “We want to establish a sense of partnership and responsibility in the community through this program. We want our students to understand that responsible citizenship and service to one’s community is critical. Service projects like this are mutually beneficial for all.”
While some projects were of the lend-a-hand variety, others were more ambitious. Perhaps none more so than the Puzzle Path at Ada War Memorial Park, where the president and First Lady Chris Burns-DiBiasio led a group of more than 50 students in the completion of the interactive walking path for children. The volunteers placed cement walking stones around the quarter-mile path connecting 10 clue stations that children will need to solve a different puzzle each week.
According to Megan Watson, BS ’09, volunteer coordinator for the village of Ada, the completion of the actual path is the second collaboration with ONU on the project and hopefully not the last.
“Some of the stones that the students are installing today were painted by students attending the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership (HOBY) conference at ONU this summer,” she says. “And after the path is complete, we hope to provide mentorship opportunities for ONU students to help local children develop future puzzles for the Puzzle Path.”
Main Street was busy on ACE Day, as many projects focused on the residents of Ada’s marquee boulevard. The Ada Fire Department looked brand new after a group of 15 students washed the four fire trucks and tended to the landscaping. Storefronts along the downtown had windows washed and sidewalks swept clean. Volunteers landscaped the Ada Railroad Depot Park and pruned the trees lining Main Street in front of campus.
Regardless of the job site students were assigned to, students were happy to help.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping out in my community back home. So when the opportunity came to help out in my new home of Ada, I kind of jumped at the opportunity,” says first-year pharmacy major Seth Wollenhaupt.
While ACE Day is scheduled as part of new student orientation and targeted at new students, it isn’t limited to just freshmen. Junior Jenalyn Fallott participated in the inaugural ACE Day last year and enjoyed the experience so much that she volunteered again this year as a student leader.
“I just wanted to do it again. Last year, I helped an elderly woman here in town. We cleaned out her garage and weeded her flowerbeds and helped her with things that she can’t really do anymore. She was lovely, and it was great to get to know her,” she says.
Though it is still early, ACE Day looks to become a highlight of move-in weekend in coming years. The new schedule implemented this year makes it easier for ACE Day to be successful because students now move in on Thursday and have a couple days to get used to life on campus before exploring the community beyond. Saturday also is the best day for the community members who may need ACE Day volunteers.
“I’m so thrilled to see such great turnout at this event, because it means that we get to introduce more students to a part of our community that they might not otherwise see,” says Burns-DiBiasio. “I’m willing to guess that very few of these students were aware that we had such a beautiful park here.”
A park and a community made even more beautiful by a simple gesture and a lot of hard work.