University students volunteer make a difference in Northwest Arkansas

Posted: October 29, 2017 at 1:03 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Will Zondlak, a freshman at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, uses a bucket Saturday to spread mulch around hybrid blackberry plants while taking part in the University of Arkansas' Make a Difference Day at Cobblestone Project Farm in Fayetteville. Members of the university's community perform volunteer hours for area agencies through the Volunteer Action Center.

Nearly 1,300 volunteers braved the cold Saturday to work on a variety of projects across Northwest Arkansas for Make a Difference Day.

The 75 projects were organized by University of Arkansas students at the Volunteer Action Center in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas agencies.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Sydney Middlebrook (right) of Fayetteville and Kari Pompeo (center) of Dallas, both freshmen at the University of Ark...

The Volunteer Action Center is a long-running campus organization led by 53 student board members who work to identify societal needs, recruit volunteers, coordinate programs and raise money, according to its website.

The center is divided into different programs with Student Engagement eight-person teams leading the way on events such as Make a Difference Day.

On Saturday, people from across the country have volunteered for Make A Difference Day, one of the largest annual single days of service nationwide. The day was established in 1992.

University of Arkansas students started participating in the national event with a small group in 1993 and the number of volunteers and agencies involved has kept growing, said juniors Hailey Carter and Nicole Bavon, members of the Student Engagement team.

"Our other programs begin at the start of a semester and a lot of times students may not know about it," Carter said. "So, Make a Difference Day is a great way for people to get involved but it's less of a commitment."

A group of about 50 students headed to Cobblestone Project Farm on North 54th Avenue in Fayetteville. The nonprofit group serves to alleviate hunger in Northwest Arkansas by donating 50-75 percent of its produce to hunger relief organizations, said farm manager Adrian Leffingwell.

The volunteers cleared tree lines, chopped wood and cleaned around the farm.

"It's a really positive thing for the farm," Leffingwell said.

Freshman Molly Fay worked as project coordinator, making sure everyone was signed in and on task.

"Helping out is a big part of being a part of the community. And here we can see our work is getting done," Fay said, looking back at the long line of cleared brush.

After working on this project, Fay said she wants to get more involved with the Volunteer Action Center on campus.

On the other side of town, a smaller bunch helped Apple Seeds Inc. at Gulley Park teach children how to shuck popcorn, cut veggies, decorate Halloween gourds and explore a festival scavenger hunt.

About 70 walked the streets of downtown Fayetteville picking up litter, specifically cigarette butts.

Kristina Jones, Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator, said volunteers usually collect 11-13 pounds of cigarette butts in an hour or two.

"They are the number one littered item in the world," Jones said. "They are so common they blend in with the landscape. I just want to make people aware that it really takes a toll."

Whether it's clearing the trails or the downtown streets, Jones said she hopes volunteering was an educational experience for students. It's a way for them to explore Fayetteville and learn firsthand about issues such as littering.

Other volunteers cleaned parks around Northwest Arkansas and completed numerous tasks for public entities and nonprofit groups.

Anyone looking for more volunteer opportunities in the area can turn to run by the center, Bavon said.

"It's a common misconception, but GivePulse isn't just for students. It's for everyone in the community," she said. "All you have to do is make an account, and they can see everything."

NW News on 10/29/2017