The University of Miami is known for its many assets – the City of Miami’s unique flavor, unparalleled athletic and academic programs – but few know that community service is an integral part of college life.
Over 1,200 members of the University of Miami community volunteered throughout the greater Miami area for the annual “Be the Change: National Gandhi Day of Service” event, a multifaceted volunteer effort sponsored by the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow last Saturday.
The event is inspired by the late Mohandas Gandhi, an influential spiritual and civil leader who acted against English imperialism by advocating non-violent civil disobedience. His birthday, Oct. 2, is commemorated worldwide with the International Day of Non-Violence. The Gandhi Day of Service event was scheduled near Gandhi’s birthday to honor his message of unity and service.
Participants were organized into several groups lead by site leaders – students who had gone through an extensive interview and application process and trained to motivate, organize and ensure that all the needs of the site were met.
Holding her sign up enthusiastically as she talked with her group, site leader Christine Pao, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, was ecstatic for the community service opportunity.
“Last year as a freshman, I had an amazing experience. The spirit of volunteering and everything, I just love it,” she said. “So I decided I wanted to be a site leader this year. I’m already really pumped and it’s really great to see how many people are here for a really good cause.”
A diverse range of sites were visited on Saturday, including several locations along the Miami River and in the City of Miami. Gandhi Day participants focused on environmental issues, nursing homes, orphanages and a male correctional facility.
Savvas Pantelides, a member of the National Gandhi Day of Service Executive Committee, was in charge of retention and recruitment for the event.
“My favorite part is bringing all the organizations together on campus and fostering relationships not only in the Greek community, but across the campus,” Pantelides said. “The one thing I loved about today is seeing so many people come out today and seeing everyone help out together.”
Volunteers began their day by signing in at the UC Lower Lounge. Dunkin’ Donuts and assorted bagels were provided in the morning for all the participants. Upon returning from their assigned sites, lunch – Indian food, pasta, pizza and fried chicken – was provided.
Individual volunteer registration in the morning experienced difficulties when a Gandhi Day organizer had to improvise and change the registration process because there were simply too many students. Instead of checking in at the registration table, students proceeded directly to their site leaders.
“I’m looking forward to definitely trying to make an impact and helping underpriviledged children and adolescents who have had a very rough time,” said Evan Gallo, a junior from Kingston, NY., who volunteered as a site leader. “I believe that this is a great time to help them.”