On November 19, the student organization called Local Engagement Against Poverty, better known as LEAP, jumped past 5,000 hours of service by the student body since its inception. When asked why he attends LEAP service days, sophomore Peer Advisor Kevin Jiles said “[LEAP] has been a great tool for Mercer students to get involved, give back, and help the community of Macon.” It is this kind of thought that has caused LEAP to thrive on the growing campus of Mercer, as it passes 8,300 students for the first time in school history.
LEAP’s ultimate goal of 10,000 hours service is within striking distance, especially due to a healthy involvement from the student organizations on campus. Student Government Association has routinely had its elected officials attend the various Saturday service days, held every two weeks and open to the general student body. SGA has definitely lived up to their billing as the leaders of the campus by coming out every weekend.
Alpha Tau Omega, last year’s winner of Mercer’s Grant Hendricks Award for Community Service, given to the organization that put together the best philanthropic efforts that school year, has also had a large number of brothers attending service days. Junior James Hedgis has helped out because he “wants to do lots of good things for the community, and [he] enjoys the experience and fellowship.”
By and large, these are not the only two organizations that have put together regular contingents to attend service days. Delta Sigma Theta, Kappa Sigma, Mercer Service Scholars, Alpha Phi Omega, Alpha Delta Pi, Mercer’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, ROTC, several FYS sections, and some residence halls have all gotten in on the events.
Tau Beta Pi’s Vice President Jared Wozny has even begun to recruit his fellow members to do service days by being open and frank to them about his thoughts on the matter. “I do LEAP service because I enjoy seeing people in the community so thankful for the work we do,” Wozny said after witnessing one of the family members in a particular work site being so excited as she saw work done on her home.
LEAP has cast a wide net in the community, and while there have been some of the same organizations such as Rebuilding Macon and Habitat for Humanity repeatedly come back for more assistance from the hard-working student body, more groups such as Loaves and Fishes have begun to welcome Mercer students in for lots of service.
The Loaves and Fishes director of development Mary Gatti welcomed Mercerians to a workday for the first time on Dec. 3, helping restore a house that will become a transitional home for single mothers and people who might have fallen recently into homelessness and were working their way back out. “LEAP has made it possible for many more individuals to get into our transitional housing with the work they did [in the most recent service day]. They are furthering our goals for the Macon homeless that are trying to get on their feet,” said Gatti.
While this might have been great for the director of the program to see such great and unexpected progress made in one day, it does not always translate into success from the volunteers. LEAP has been able to balance this opportunity cost of early and strenuous Saturday morning service with the intrinsic benefits of helping others, community service hours and either free or cheap lunch. After attending his third LEAP service day, sophomore resident assistant David Michaeli raved about the experiences and plans to do many more.
“I do it because I love to see the final outcome and the people’s reactions when they see how much positive change we’ve helped bring to their lives,” said Michaeli.
After a year, LEAP has passed the halfway mark. In the spring, several students key to LEAP’s success and progression in the Mercer-Macon community will be taking a class designed to brainstorm and plan solely for LEAP. There are quite a few younger Mercerians that have begun to take charge at service events, using their individual talents to lead from both the front and the back.
Lyndssey Autrey, a sophomore Mercer Service Scholar, has run an event at several service days this semester alone.
When asked why she adds in the extra leadership and logistical work, she said, “I just really enjoy it. Also, I want to help other students at Mercer develop that passion and love for serving that I have been blessed with.”
LEAP will continue in the spring with several more service days, festivals, and intensive projects that will provide opportunities for people all over campus to get involved in an activity they feel the most interested in.