GOSHEN — Over 100 Goshen College freshmen left campus classrooms Wednesday in an attempt to answer the question “What does it mean to be a part of a community?”

Goshen College Community Engagement Day is a part of a freshman requirement course at Goshen College called “Identity, Culture, and Community.” The course is entering into a section that hopes to address where students see themselves within their community and what it means to be a member of a community.

“Part of that is service or civic engagement,” said Adela Hufford, administrative facility member for the class and Director of Orientation, Transition, and Retention. “We try hard to connect them back to the community.”

To do that, freshmen in the course are divided up between eight locations across the county, to offer support to a variety of nonprofits and community organizations that themselves participate in community engagement.

“It’s a matter of having them see themselves as a part of something larger, and what does it mean to be engaged, what does civic engagement mean to them, and what does it mean for the organizations that we’re paired with? What are they contributing to the community and how are they engaging in civic engagement?” Hufford asked.

Students volunteered at Church Community Services, Lacasa, Wellfield Botanical Gardens, Pathways Retreat Center, Greencroft, Habitat for Humanity, The Window, and Rieth Interpretive Center doing everything from working in food pantries, completing chores, doing cleanup and maintenance, and cleaning invasive plant species. For organizations and nonprofits that are supported primarily by volunteer labor, having nearly 20 students on site to get work done is valuable.

“There’s always more work to be done than we can manage,” said Goshen Forester Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley. He managed students at the Rieth Interpretive Center during Wednesday’s Community Engagement Day. “Whenever we have the opportunity to bring other people in to help us, it just makes a huge difference. We can actually see the work processing in a way that if you’re working by yourself you just won’t.”

Students at the Rieth Interpretive Center, 410 W. Plymouth Ave., spent the day organizing deliveries from Trees for Goshen, a nonprofit aimed at planting trees throughout the city, for November distribution, and clearing out nonnative Asian bush honeysuckle and Tree of Heaven.

“These species crowd out the native species in our woods and make it hard for them to regenerate naturally,” said Sawatsky-Kingsley. “Something like Tree of Heaven, it’s allelopathic. It puts a toxin into the soil which actually suppresses other native plants.”

The class field trip supports engagement in a variety of ways, Hufford explained.

“This is always a day that a class just connects,” she said. “They get to be among each other and they’re not talking about what we’re reading or what’s going on in class. Students that may not have had conversations with each other, here, they’re interacting with one another and getting to know each other. It brings a sense of belonging within the class but also this larger sense of belonging to the community.”

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at dani.messick@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2065.

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