Most days during the hectic start of fall semester, Vivien Steele can be found meeting with students, faculty and staff in the office where she serves as assistant to the chair of the English department. But for the past 10 years, Steele has managed to clear space on her September calendar to take part in Lehigh’s Day of Caring.
The university has been a partner in Day of Caring since the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley created the event in 1997. Each year, employees volunteer to spend a day sprucing up child care centers, sorting through thrift store donations, tending to historic buildings and more. This year, 34 employees, teaching assistants, and graduate students participated, including 20 for the first time.
Steele helped spread mulch and prepare garden beds for winter at the historic Burnside Plantation in Bethlehem.
“It’s physical labor, which I really like,” she said. “One year, we stripped the hill behind the Hotel Bethlehem of brush, small trees and poison ivy, all in the pouring rain. We got soaked, but it was fun.”
This year’s Day of Caring included talking with students at Lehigh’s new Community School partner, Broughal Middle School. Employees from the materials science and engineering department, the office of facilities services and campus planning, and a range of other campus departments spoke with eighth-graders who are exploring careers.
Putting a “human face” on the university
Cindy Moser, a secretary in the office of research and graduate studies, visited two classes. “At first, they assumed I was a professor, so I explained to them that I was actually a secretary. They were surprised to learn that not everyone who works at Lehigh is a teacher.”
On a chalkboard, Moser wrote: Student. Coach. Secretary. She explained she had been all of those things at one point. “I told them that, like me, they might change careers several times over their lives, so they needed to always keep learning and growing.
“The kids were receptive and asked great questions. I would definitely do this again.”
Moser’s enthusiasm is shared by Anne Noon-Scaggs, Lehigh’s coordinator of community and regional affairs.
“I love Day of Caring,” she says. “The event lets us share all the great people we have here at Lehigh with the community. It puts a human face on the university so our neighbors can see that we’re not just a lot of buildings.”
Many at Lehigh have found it difficult to take time off at the start of the semester. To provide additional community service opportunities, the university has added a second Day of Caring during Spring Break. Noon-Scaggs says there is always room for more volunteers, as there is a nearly endless need for assistance in the community.
Steele hopes more of her colleagues join her, noting that meeting people from across the university is another benefit of the experience. While some might consider community service a selfless act, she isn’t so sure.
“Sometimes I think I’m being a little selfish because it makes me feel great.”