University of Mary students aren’t expected to show up to class on Wednesday.
In fact, the entire campus will look like a ghost town for much of the day as more than 1,000 students, alumni, faculty and staff members join Monsignor James Shea and numerous Benedictine Sisters in completing service projects throughout Bismarck-Mandan during the fourth annual Day of Service.
“Students are often times afraid to make that first contact on their own, to walk into an organization and volunteer," said Becky Mastel, University of Mary senior and event coordinator. "The Day of Service gives them a little bit of an easier route into these organizations.
"We line everything up for them. Honestly, all they have to do is pick a project and show up the day of," she said. "We basically hold their hand through the whole thing. I think a lot of students wouldn’t have that initiative to go out and serve in a community that they don’t know.”
The University of Mary community will be assisting at least 63 businesses and organizations within the Bismarck-Mandan area, with additional projects planned in Fargo, Billings, Mont., and Rome, Italy. All classes are canceled for the day.
“We like to include our other campuses. We’re one university and everybody comes together to serve beside each other," Mastel said. "Whether you’re on the Fargo campus, the Billings campus or over in Rome ... it doesn’t matter. We’re one community and we’re serving those around us."
The event kicks off with a convocation and prayer service at 8 a.m. Jena Gullo, executive director of the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, will give the keynote address at this time.
At 9:15 a.m., seven buses will be loaded up with volunteers to complete a day's worth of service projects, based on community needs.
“We really look for places we know the students can make an impact. We look for project sites that need a volunteer base throughout the entire year," said Kayzanne Sibla, a junior majoring in communications, sciences and disorders.
This year's projects include grooming animals and helping to build a shed and fence at H.I.P.P. Kids Therapy, serving breakfast at Ministry on the Margins, cleaning and groundskeeping at many nursing homes and assisted living facilities and preparing the ski trails for winter at Huff Hills, just to name a few.
“One project I think will be really beneficial this year will be helping at H.I.P.P. Kids Therapy," Sibla said. "It will have a really big impact on people that do need help.”
A favorite service project of many students is visiting nursing home residents, Mastel said.
"Students are going out and doing residents’ nails, giving them manicures and pedicures," she said.
"And playing Bingo," Sibla added, smiling.
Sibla spent last year's Day of Service painting buildings at a baseball field.
"That was really fun and enjoyable because I knew it was going to help a lot of people," she said.
The event is also a way to bring students with varying interests together. Athletes, musicians and science club members will be working side-by-side to complete projects.
“It’s definitely a day about giving back, but it’s also about building relationships," Mastel said. "The Day of Service makes the university really come together, and it definitely has become something to look forward to.”
On Wednesday, volunteers will be wearing white T-shirts with a paint-splatter design that say, "Day of Service." There will also be "University of Mary Day of Service" signs at each of the project locations.
"You'll see us around," Mastel said. "We want the community to know that we’re there for them."
Currently the state's largest one-day volunteer event, the Day of Service began in 2014 after a group of students presented their idea to Shea.
"He thought it was a great idea and very true to our Benedictine values," Mastel said.
The event continues to be student led and student driven.
"We do all the work," Mastel said. "The calling of the organizations, the planning of the convocation and bus routes. Every part of it is student led, so it's very tailored to what students need as far as volunteer opportunities go."
The Day of Service, which coincides with the university's homecoming week, wraps up with the crowning of the queen and king during the 7 p.m. homecoming coronation. Mass and a meal precede the coronation, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
"We’re always looking for new organizations to include in our database of partnerships ... not just at the kickoff, but all throughout the year," said Mastel. “One of the biggest challenges of the whole event is finding organizations that are in need of volunteers."
At the conclusion of the Day of Service, the database of partnerships gets passed to Sara Danielson, the university's director of Mission for Life. She oversees and coordinates the students' continued volunteer work throughout the year.
"My hope, as the Day of Service coordinator, is that this one day encourages students to stay involved with these organizations throughout the year, to volunteer their time and talents," Mastel said. "This is just the kickoff to a year and a lifetime of service."
“A lot of times in college, we are so focused on our studies and our school that we sometimes forget (to serve)," Sibla said. "The Day of Service allows us to live out our Benedictine values that the university is based on. It brings out the idea that we can each go out and remember to serve others.
"I’m not just here for school. I’m here to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” she said.
The University of Mary was founded in 1959 by the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery. Students take part in hundreds of service projects every year, from helping at homeless shelters across the state to providing medical assistance in Guatemala and Peru.
Planning is already underway for the 2018 Day of Service. Bismarck-Mandan businesses and organizations interested in being a part of next year's event can learn more by calling 701-355-8228.