Duke University’s annual Make A Difference Day, sponsored by Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs took place on a sunny October Saturday at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham and E.K. Powe Elementary. The service day focused on connecting university students to their surrounding community of Durham, establishing a relationship of service and giving back. The college students used the opportunity to build a garden for first graders outside their classroom.
Yuqi Yan, an international student from outside Beijing, gets the last few roots out before building the garden bed edging. The students, Yan included, all said the manual labor was a welcome break from exams.
Julia Myhre, a freshman from Kenya, reaches to clear leaves from the class pond for its turtle and future fish. “You have to look for opportunities to pull you off campus and engage,” Myhre says. “It’s important to make an impact on the community where you live.”
Domonique Redmond, Ashwin Prakash and Hayden Walcott clear the dirt. Ashwin, a sophomore from the Seattle area, described the labor-intensive activity as a good opportunity to feel like part of a community that will be his home for the next four years. Hayden, a freshman from Montgomery, Ala., agreed. “Duke students comes from all over, so it’s a good way to learn about Durham,” she says.
Brandon Yan, a freshman from San Francisco, prepares another bed for planting. “Two things I really liked at home was volunteering at elementary schools and gardening,” Yan says. “I’m excited to get the chance now to help the Durham school community.”
Courtney White, a junior from Waco, Texas, helps Myhre clear leaves. “Coming from the Duke side, it’s a good reminder that Durham extends beyond campus,” White says.
Yuqi and Yoshi Mizuguchi, another freshman international student, from Japan, clear fallen leaves out of the classroom pond. “I like to help do work for others,” Yoshi says. “It’s good for everyone to help now and again.”
Yoshie, Yuqi, Craig, Ashwin and Brandon admire their handiwork. Powe is a Duke partnership school, which allows it to reach out to the university students for volunteer opportunities.
Julie and Craig put the finishing touches on the raised beds.
Susie Gilbert, whose first grade classroom at E.K. Powe will tend the garden, has taught at the elementary school for more than 16 years. It’s her first Make a Difference Day, “but I’m sure it won’t be my last,” she says.
Ashwin, Domonique, Courtney, Hayden and Yuqi begin the process of weeding the beds. As assistant director for programs at Duke’s Community Service Center for 17 years, Domonique has helped to sustain student engagement with nonprofits in the area.
Susie Gilbert thanks all the volunteer students for coming, none of whom knew one another before signing up to help build the garden for her first grade class. “I can see the impact you all have in the Durham public schools,” she tells the group.
Craig Gilbert, Hayden Walcott, Yuqi Yun, Yoshie Mizuguchi, Ashwin Prakash, Brandon Yan, Courtney White, Julia Myhre, Susie Gilbert and Domonique Redmond stand around the completed project: two raised and weeded gardening beds.