Megan Walker, Opinion Editor
One-sixth of Samford’s student body participated in Samford Gives Back last weekend. Over 900 students from every corner of campus volunteered for four hours in various capacities across Birmingham. Students had the opportunity to experience how moving it can feel to spend the day giving back to the community and serving others.
I, myself, was part of a group pulling weeds, working soil, spreading mulch and edging in Urban Ministry’s community garden. It was a beautiful day, and spending the entire morning outside working on a project that had such significant impact in the lives of others was truly moving. It was impossible not to be inspired by what the Lord is doing through Urban Ministry. With each shovel of mulch, I felt like I was making a significant contribution in someone’s life. It wasn’t until our team was getting ready to leave that I had a serious reality check.
The director of the community garden was thanking us for all the hard work we put in, saying that he wished we could come back to help every Saturday. Hearing this, the pride I had in how much we accomplished in the garden completely dissolved. It was unlikely any one of us would come back to volunteer again, let alone our entire group. The weeds would not stop growing. The mulch would need to be replaced. The garden would need to be tended to. But we would not be there to make sure these things were taken care of.
Giving back feels good when you are doing it. The body releases endorphins, the same feel-good chemical released during exercise, when one makes a donation or does a charitable act. This creates a “helper’s high” that makes people find pleasure in the act of giving. It is this high that encourages one to repeat the charitable gift or service.
The only problem is that the “high” subsides and we go back to the daily grind all too quickly. We get busy with life as usual and forget the people or causes we were so passionate about such a short while ago. Samford takes pride in its annual day of service, but is volunteering for a few hours one Saturday of each school year really doing enough to be so proud? Should Samford be doing more to actively give back throughout the semester instead of just allocating a single Saturday?
As I stood in the center of the garden ready to leave for the afternoon, I looked around and was reminded of the words we often quote of President Andrew Westmoreland: “We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.” My group might have done significant work in the garden on Saturday, but we are not truly contributing to making the garden a success.
We did not till the ground to be soft enough for the plants to grow. We did not turn the compost that made the soil rich for gardening. We did not plant the seeds that have grown into healthy plants. We take credit for the work we did, but the credit is not for our taking.
All of that is not to say that students should not participate in Samford Gives Back. I am so proud that such a large volume of our students gave up a Saturday to serve the community. It is an opportunity that most universities do not offer students. I am only saying that Samford Gives Back is not enough on its own.
Students must carry the spirit of giving throughout the semester with continued volunteering. We should not be satisfied with a one-and-done day of service. We need to cultivate the relationships built with the various community partners from Samford Gives Back to be a part of significant change throughout Birmingham.
We may not have planted the trees whose shade we enjoy ourselves, but we can plant trees whose shade others might enjoy in the future.
Walker is a senior journalism and mass communication major.