Hundreds of students are expected to participate in over a dozen service projects as part of Mercer University’s Be a Good NeighBear event, which kicks off Sept. 26.
This year’s event, put on annually by MerServe, features two days of service projects — Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 — with activities in between.
“For so many of our students, knowing where to go and how to serve is important to their Mercer experience,” said Lauren Shinholster, coordinator of community engagement.
Be a Good NeighBear is a good introduction to service opportunities in the Macon community, she said.
Student volunteers can sign up for projects that include serving meals to those in need; cleaning, painting and organizing for various charitable groups; painting bus stops; and helping fulfill other community needs.
Most Be a Good NeighBear projects take place outside to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, Shinholster said. The service projects were spread out across two Saturdays to promote social distancing, and masks are required at all sites.
Many projects are new this year since a lot of Mercer’s community partners aren’t accepting volunteers right now due to COVID-19, she said.
“One new partner that we’re really excited about is the Napier Heights Food Co-op,” she said.
Student volunteers will help the co-op with a community cleanup on Duncan Avenue, which is just a short walk from campus.
“We are so excited about the wonderful opportunity to partner with MerServe to help our neighbors with small projects and to help clean up where we live, work and play,” said Andrea Cooke of the Napier Heights Food Co-op. “We will be working the first weekend to partner with our neighbors on Duncan Avenue to cut the grass, pick up trash, and we are fortunate to have Secondhand Soil coming out to provide us with recycling receptacles. We will be offering 10 community members a two-month subscription to Secondhand Soil’s composting program.
“We are trying to make a difference, but we are consciously working to include the voices of the community in this effort. It is important to clean up the neighborhood with the community and not insert ourselves in a way that could feel like we are doing something to the community.”
The co-op’s end goal is to launch a low-cost, healthy food market in Napier Heights, which has been identified as a food desert because of its limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In the meantime, the group is looking for available property to lease or purchase, so it can offer classes on gardening, raising chickens and composting, as well as have a roadside stand, she said.
It’s important for Mercer students to be involved in the community that surrounds them, said Cooke, a graduate of the University’s Master of Family Therapy program.
“I grew up in Napier Heights, never thinking that Mercer was a place that was in reach for me,” she said. “I believe that it is fundamentally important for Mercer students to get involved in the community because there is often a disconnect from the operations of what happens on campus versus what is happening in the communities that embrace it.
“The citizens of Napier Heights love Mercer, and we love that Mercer loves us back.”
During the week, students will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual bingo challenge.
MerServe will post a bingo card with different activities on its Facebook and Instagram pages. The activities will encourage students to help serve the community outside of the official Be A Good NeighBear events. They also will introduce students to other ways to serve, including in-direct service, advocacy and philanthropy, Shinholster said.
The first 50 students to submit a card with “bingo” will get a sweatshirt.
Students can register for the Saturday service projects on BearPulse.
“In a year like this year, now more than ever, we need to be a good neighbear to show that the Mercer community can still give back,” Shinholster said.