Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) is teaming up with Avondale to make a difference. Make a Difference Day, the largest national day of community service, is held every year on the fourth Saturday of October. This year, EMCC is providing Avondale with 40 volunteers — 20 faculty and staff and 20 students — to help paint one of six homes and participate in a neighborhood cleanup of the city’s Las Ligas community.
“We were looking for a way to get faculty and students more involved in the community, and we were looking to find some type of event where we could have them working side by side on something really meaningful,” said Rachel Holmes, Director of the Teacher Institute. “So I called the city of Avondale and told them what I was envisioning and they said, ‘We have the perfect opportunity!’”
The homes belong to veteran, disabled, and elderly community members. Volunteers from EMCC, as well as Phoenix West Maricopa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Avondale Police Department, and Avondale Attorney’s Office, will also complete some basic yard maintenance for the homeowners.
“The generosity of local businesses and organizations is vital to the success of the event,” said Donna Gardner, Avondale Community Engagement Manager.
Make a Difference Day was first held in 1992, a leap year, after USA Weekend suggested its readers take the extra day to do something beneficial for their communities or those in need. Holmes pointed out that participating in the event also benefits students, faculty, and staff.
“Having everyone work side by side on a common goal allows students to see faculty and staff as real people who care about the same things as they do,” Holmes said. “It also allows faculty and staff to serve as models for the students. If we’re asking them to be civically engaged, then we need to set that tone and model that civic engagement.”
Students who volunteer will earn service-learning hours. Service learning combines service to the community with application of what students are learning.
“The research is clear that service learning and students who are involved in service learning have a higher rate of retention in college,” Holmes said.
That’s because they get a sense of community and purpose and get to meet other students, staff, and faculty.
“So they’re building relationships, and again, building relationships is the key,” Holmes said. “In my opinion, when you have those relationships in place, then students feel a lot more comfortable when they have questions, when they have concerns, when they need help. So by involving students with service learning, we’re increasing the chances that one, the students are going to feel like a part of a team, part of the EMCC family, and two, it’s going to lead to higher academic success because they are applying the skills they’re learning in the classroom in authentic real-life ways in the community.”
Service learning also helps students solidify their choice of career and major.