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600 MSU Students "Take It To the Streets"

About 600 Michigan State University students kicked off their semester Monday by giving back to their community.  MSU launched its inaugural Day of Service program, in which student volunteers spread out over the Lansing area to perform maintenance work, trash cleanup and other duties for needy residents and charitable groups. 

With the catchphrase “Taking it to Streets” emblazoned on green T-shirts, hundreds of MSU students began their day with a morning rally at the Rock, the iconic launch site for countless campus projects. 

Most of the participants were residence hall assistants who’d gathered for training before next week’s start of the fall semester.  Their day of service would take them across the region, to public housing sites, community centers and cemeteries.

But first, local officials came forth to offer their thanks.  Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero told the crowd that these are tough times, and that their simple acts mean a lot to Lansing residents.

“And I’m telling you, they will look to you,”  Bernero said.  “Your energy, your strength, your very presence will give them strength and give them hope.”

The students got a final pep talk by organizer Josh Gillespie, whose vibrant enthusiasm fired up the whole crowd.  Gillespie is the assistant director of residence education and housing services at MSU. 

“When you’re able to give back; when you’re able to see the needs that other have and look beyond yourself, it makes you appreciate what you have, it makes you more humble...and it just sends a clear message of giving back,” said Gillespie.

At 10 a.m. work was in full swing at Advent House Ministries at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Lansing.  One team was combing the grounds in search of trash along the busy intersection.

Inside, a larger team armed with rollers and brushes was giving a basement activity room a facelift. 

These walls hadn’t seen fresh paint in a decade.  Perched on a ladder, Ronald Taylor stroked his brush artfully around an air vent.  The Detroit native is a fifth year senior at MSU – a “super senior,” as it’s sometimes called.  He was thinking about the children who would use this room for years to come.

“The challenge is to make sure you get every single spot looking just right, because the kids are going to know if you mess up a little bit, so you’ve got to make sure it looks good for them,” says Taylor.  “It’s all for the kids.”

KEVIN LAVERY:  “Do you think the kids will be looking above the air conditioning vent?” 

RONALD TAYLOR:  “Yes I do.  You know, you never know.  Kids are very crafty.  They like to climb things, they’re going to get up here and they’re going to see it.  They’re going to know, and I’m not going to let that happen.”

A few miles north, students toted leaf blowers, rakes and wheelbarrows at Hildebrandt Housing, a public housing complex on north Turner Street. Monique Edwards watched with pride as the beautification effort took shape.  She’s the mother of nine children…and two-thirds of them were happily scooping and dumping pint-sized loads of mulch, side by side with the students.

“You’ve got six of my children out here this morning,” beamed Edwards.  “They saw you out here; even my daughter that’s handicapped snuck out; she put on her boots to come help.  They haven’t even ate breakfast yet, running out trying to help the ladies out here.”

To the south, another neighborhood streetscape was evolving at the corner of Clifford and Prospect near Sparrow Hospital.  Where a condemned house once stood just three years ago now flourishes a community garden.  These students were adding a few embellishments under the watchful – and grateful eye of neighborhood resident Theresa Kasperick-Postellon.

“We have ladies back here who have built raised beds so we’ll plant raspberries there, and then the rest of it they’re bundling up to give to the Greater Lansing Food Bank garden project so that next year, folks who are part of that will be able to raise raspberries in their yards,” said Kasperick-Postellon.

The raised flower beds were the work of sophomores Kalieha Stapleton and Dakota Riehl.  Stapleton liked the concept of a day of service taking place before the start of the fall semester.

“Because it puts the idea in everyone’s head that it’s not just something that you should be doing, but it’s something that you should want to do,” she said.  “So we  should do our part to help out around the community, and not just on campus.”

At the end of the day, MSU student volunteers had committed four thousand hours of community service at some 20 sites.  Organizers hope the event will become an annual summer tradition, and a lasting partnership that forges deeper ties between campus and community.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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