Making a difference: Students rake lawns of Marquette residents in need

Photo+by+Lindsey+Eaton%3A+From+left+to+right%2C+NMU+freshman+nursing+major+Amanda+Newton%2C+senior+history+major+Dan+Feenstra+and+sophomore+environmental+studies+and+sustainability+major+Brian+Shier%2C+members+of+the+campus+ministry+Cru%2C+volunteer+for+%E2%80%9CMake+a+Difference+Day%2C%E2%80%9D+a+nationwide+time+of+community+service+on+Oct.+28%2C+raking+the+yard+of+a+Negaunee+family.+Meanwhile%2C+snow+flurries.

Photo by Lindsey Eaton: From left to right, NMU freshman nursing major Amanda Newton, senior history major Dan Feenstra and sophomore environmental studies and sustainability major Brian Shier, members of the campus ministry Cru, volunteer for “Make a Difference Day,” a nationwide time of community service on Oct. 28, raking the yard of a Negaunee family. Meanwhile, snow flurries.

Noah Hausmann

The Oct. 23 gale-force storm, in which trees toppled onto houses and power lines and strong winds ripped off even green leaves from branches, left its share of damage and perhaps more mounds of leaves in yards than usual. But student volunteers braved the already wintry U.P. weather with undaunted smiles as they did their best during “Make a Difference Day” this weekend.

In the dim hours of 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, the University Center and Cohodas Building parking lots were packed with cars. Inside the U.C.’s Peter White Lounge, hundreds of students lined up to get their commemorative T-shirts and work rakes before heading to the complimentary breakfast in the Great Lakes Room, to eat a hearty meal before setting out to benefit the community.

When NMU first participated in the nation-wide “Make a Difference Day” event in 1994, there was less than 20 volunteers. But this year, more than 850 individuals from 92 different groups participated, most of them Northern students. The volunteers raked leaves and did other service projects for houses in Marquette County, both in the city and as far out as Negaunee, Ishpeming and Palmer, for a total of 226 service sites. These were typically the homes of people who find taking care of their yards difficult or impossible, such as the elderly.

“The community puts a lot into the university, so we want to give back,” said volunteer Tommy Hickey, a junior social work major and member of Men Outside the Box. “Plus, some people can’t take care of it themselves, but that doesn’t mean they should have leafy yards.”

The event was organized by the NMU Volunteer Center through the Center for Student Enrichment. Georgia Harrison, Volunteer Center student coordinator and a senior ecology major, headed up the event.

“It’s great to see students come together. They accomplish a lot actually. It’s a lot of extra work in the office,” Harrison said, explaining that each house helped had to be matched with volunteer groups. “Some [people that have been helped] tell me how much they look forward to it. Some say it’s their favorite day of the year. It’s good to see that connection between students and the community.”

Many sponsors also contributed to the project. NMU Dining Services catered the breakfast, Wells Fargo gave funds and provided its own group of volunteers, LoyalTees Custom Apparel gave a discount for the 1,200 T-shirts and Lowe’s Home Improvement discounted the 50 new rakes purchased this year. In all, 783 plastic rakes were handed out to volunteers, along with 80 leaf scoopers.

“It’s a big NMU tradition,” Harrison added. “I talk to alums, and it’s something they remember doing when they were students. They have a lot of good memories from it.”

Work started around 10 a.m., and (36 broken rakes later) most groups finished their service projects by early afternoon. But during the morning, the U.P.’s wintry elements set in, with temperatures in the 30s, along with a chilling mix of rain, sleet and snow, soaking coats and work gloves.

“It’s very cold. My legs are actually numb,” said Taylor Yarnell, sophomore special and elementary education major. “But it’s also really cool to be around people that don’t mind working out in the weather. That makes it better.”

Yarnell participated as part of the volunteer group from His House Christian Fellowship. In addition to raking two lawns, the group also helped a family who lives on the Lake Superior shore to remove stones that had washed up during the recent storm. The yard had been covered with gravel and large rocks, which the students raked and shoveled into wheelbarrows, as the rain continued to pour and waves crashed.

“It’s more of an adventure and it leaves us with greater stories to tell,” sophomore pre-nursing major Cheyanne Njust said of the challenging circumstances.

One Marquette resident the His House group raked the lawn of was Arleen Herlich. Her children have grown up and don’t live in the area anymore, so she has few people remaining to help her, she explained.

Many community members, including Herlich, show their appreciation each year by offering cookies and other treats to volunteers.

“I couldn’t be happier for all the good things you’ve done. It just wouldn’t have been done,” Herlich said. She told the students with a smile, “You should all be proud of yourselves.”