A day with no classes? Indeed. Freed-Hardeman students used Thursday, Sept. 30, as a day of service. More than 1,000 FHU students went into the community to be the hands and feet of Jesus. They painted, they prayed, they cleaned houses and yards, they wrote notes and delivered them and they encouraged by word and deed. They worked on approximately 45 projects at schools, parks, the animal shelter, assisted living and health care facilities, campus and Mid-South Youth Camp.
“After 26 years at FHU, I can truly say this is one of the coolest things I get to do — watch students give back to others through service. We have seen it happen on the Gulf Coast after hurricanes, on mission trips to developing countries and today in our own backyard — Chester County,” Barbara England, art professor, said. She led a group of students in painting a mural for Urban House, downtown business.
Groups were organized by social clubs, athletic teams, majors and other common interests. Some individuals did their own projects. Many worked in areas with whom they had a direct relationship. Biology majors, for example, cleaned Anderson Science Center. Theatre students helped Chester County Youth Theatre organize their prop room. Nursing students swabbed cheeks to save a life by registering students to become stem cell donors.
The day began with an interactive presentation by Dr. Matthew Sokoloski, FHU philosophy teacher, that included his washing of students’ feet.
Next, Jessica St. John, whose family owns and operates Sweet Jordan’s Baked Goodies and Ice Cream Shop in Paris, Tennessee, spoke. She talked about the difficulty young adults with special needs have in finding employment. Her brother, for whom the shop is named, has Down’s Syndrome. He and approximately 30 other special needs individuals work in the shop. Four team members from the bake shop came to campus, also, and received standing ovations from students following their presentation.
FHU students then divided into four groups for breakout sessions. Presenters talked about special needs individuals with whom they had personal experience. Students then wrote more than 3,000 cards for these individuals.
Finally, students were given the opportunity to sign up to be a buddy to a special needs person. Over the course of the academic year, they will send cards to their buddy at predetermined intervals. More than 60 students agreed to do this.
Throughout the day, many students volunteered their services at local schools. “They (students) put out mulch, pulled weeds, pressure-washed our picnic tables and gave some extra recess to our kids,” Melissa Judd, assistant principal at Chester County Middle School, said. “We were definitely blessed by their serving hearts.” At the junior high, they painted lockers and restrooms, along with other projects.
Approximately 250 handwritten notes of encouragement with scriptures and prayers were assembled and delivered by FHU faculty, administrators and students to 10 health care facilities in Henderson. “We began by praying at the FHU Clinic, giving thanks for the blessings of the past 18 months, as well as the challenges,” Dr. Doug Burleson, assistant dean of the College of Biblical Studies, said. “We also prayed at each of the 10 health care facilities. It was powerful to see people come together to pray for and encourage our friends and neighbors who work tirelessly to care for the physical and mental well-being of others.”
Burleson committed himself to more intentional prayer for others, including those he meets for the first time. “The first University Servants' Day was a blessing to me,” he said. “I am thankful for the community I live in and the community I get to be a part of.”
Servants' Day was a day for serving others, a day for changing hearts and minds, an unforgettable day. FHU President David R. Shannon deemed FHU’s first Servants' Day “magnificent.” “We trust God was glorified as our hearts said, ‘Make me a servant, Lord. Make me like you,’” Shannon said.