This past Saturday, Mercer’s LEAP (Local Engagement Against Poverty) initiative hosted the annual ‘Super Service Saturday: Be a Good Neighbear’ event across the surrounding community in an effort to actively reduce poverty and strengthen the relationship between Mercer students and the surrounding community. That morning, about 200 volunteers arrived in the Historic Quad of Mercer’s North Campus. After a eating a small breakfast of doughnuts and reciting a common prayer, the students were divvied up into several color-coded teams. The teams then traveled by trolley, car, and foot to predetermined locations around Macon where they picked up trash, painted a house, spread mulch, and leveled foundations for houses under construction.
Be a Good Neighbear originally started as a small-scale trash pick-up in public areas around Macon and Mercer’s campus but grew in scale over the years to take advantage of larger crowds of volunteers. The Pink team traveled across town to a neighborhood currently under development by the Macon Area Habitat for Humanity. Once on the property, the group of ten students were distributed shovels, hard rakes, gloves, and wheel barrows and were directed by Volunteer Coordinator Monty Cheshire in leveling the dirt floor in the crawlspace of a house still under construction. Cheshire, a former industrial engineer, turned Papa John’s Franchisee, turned philanthropist has worked with Habitat for Humanity for three years.
“This whole neighborhood needs help,” said Cheshire, referring to the ongoing efforts. The volunteers also worked to remove scrap concrete and trash from the lot. After two hours of leveling, a portion of the students went down the street to a completed Habitat house, occupied by Wendy Orellana and her three children. There, the students to spread mulch around the yard’s flower beds and briefly talked to one of Orellana’s children. Cheshire later commented that the volunteers from Mercer did several days worth of work within four hours.
During initial construction, vandalism of Habitat houses was common, but as time passed, the homeowners in the Orellana’s neighborhood began turning in vandals and looters. “We are revitalizing the neighborhood,” said Cheshire; “it’s safe now.” The Macon Area Habitat for Humanity plans to construct 46 new homes with a minimum of four houses under construction at any one time. Orellana’s house was house 26 and will be dedicated on October 3rd.
Across town, nearly 50 student volunteers laid ladders against the walls of an old three-story house and gave it a fresh coat of paint. “It’s nice to know student in such prominent fields [of study] are humble enough to do something like this,” said Mercer graduate student Tammy Hotchkiss. The owner of the house, Mr. Jimmie, and his recently deceased wife, have raised nearly two dozen foster children to adulthood since buying the house in 1970. Mr. Jimmie recently tried to have his house repainted in 2003, but the contractor took the down payment and left the job unfinished.“It’s nice to give back to people who deserve so much more,” said freshman Aaron Brantley when asked about his role in painting the house.
“Of course, we can’t change all of Macon by painting a house, but in a small way we are making a difference,” said freshman Amanda Pugsley.