Sullivan Foundation partner school Judson College, located in Marion, Ala., knows how to get its students in the mood to serve others from the get-go. It starts with Marion Matters, an annual community-wide project that has been kicking off the new school year since 2004.
This year’s Marion Matters, held Aug. 23, brought Judson students, faculty and staff together with community partners to spend an entire day making a difference all around Perry County. About 129 Judson volunteers took part in the community-service initiative, which was coordinated by Judson College’s Office of Faith-Based Service and Learning.
Marion Matters volunteers worked on outdoor cleanup, maintenance and beautification projects at the Marion Cemetery and teamed up with Main Street Marion partners to clean sidewalks and flower beds in downtown Marion. Others partnered with local schools in Marion and Uniontown, where teams moved and reset playground equipment and fences at Marion Academy, sorted books for an after-school reading program at Uniontown Elementary School, and updated bulletin boards at Francis Marion School in Marion and C.H.O.I.C.E. in Uniontown.
Judson teams also visited and participated in activities with Perry County and Southland Nursing Home residents in Marion, while others visited with adults in Uniontown Adult Day Care Center. Still others spent time visiting homebound Marion community members. One Judson team sorted clothes and assisted with a clothing drive at Sowing Seeds of Hope’s Job Training Center, while some volunteers accomplished various projects at the Lincoln School Museum and Perry Lakes Park.
This year, seven staff members from The Alabama Baptist (TAB) newspaper also joined the Judson teams at a few project sites. Editor-in-chief Jennifer Davis Rash said that participating with Judson in Marion Matters was a “natural partnership” for the first of several service ministry projects The Alabama Baptist plans for the coming year. “Our team loved working alongside the students, faculty and staff [from Judson] and enjoyed getting to know people from the various communities,” said Rash.
TAB Communications Director Debbie Campbell said her team enjoyed interacting with high school students who passed their work stations at Francis Marion School: “One football player stopped to invite us all to come to the football game that night!” she said. “It was exciting to see the commitment and the willingness of Judson students to make a difference in their community.”
Amy Butler, Director of Faith-Based Service and Learning at Judson and coordinator of Marion Matters, said that, in addition to the completion of meaningful service projects in Perry County, Marion Matters is often freshman students’ first introduction to the community where they will spend the next three or four years.
Judson freshman Lauren Hicks of Anniston, Ala., enjoyed hearing the stories of the two long-time Marion residents her group visited, and the students in her group quickly realized the mutual benefits of their investment, she said. “Neither of the ladies we visited gets much company, so they loved having a group of women come to talk with them for a while. We definitely left a mark on these two women—you could see it on their faces as we spent time with them—but they also left a mark on us.”
Trinity Littleton, a freshman from Jemison, Ala., said she gained a deeper understanding of this year’s student life theme, “Leave Your Mark,” through her Marion Matters experience. Her group updated bulletin boards at C.H.O.I.C.E Uniontown, a non-profit organization working to build a network of charitable and educational resources for underserved communities in Perry County. “I didn’t realize the impact a bulletin board could have until we actually started talking to the ladies at C.H.O.I.C.E. and understanding more of their perspective,” said Littleton. She added that the staff at C.H.O.I.C.E. had been so busy serving their community with clothing and school supply drives that their bulletin boards, which provided valuable information and community resources, “just needed a little love and attention.”
“After finishing what seemed like such a small project, the reward was much more than I expected,” Littleton said. “The ladies were so appreciative and could not stop taking pictures of our boards. It was the sweetest! I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to participate in a project that interested me and didn’t feel like a chore. It gave me a chance to bond with other girls who share some of the same interests, and, in the end, we all shared the same amount of love and pride for our little bulletin boards. No matter how small it may seem, we all left our own unique mark in Uniontown, and I have no doubt we will always remember the impact!”
In addition to learning about service opportunities that exist in Perry County, Butler said new student participants in Marion Matters can, like Littleton’s group, “learn about their own gifts and talents that they can use to serve people wherever God calls them.”
Judson President W. Mark Tew quoted Mark 10:45 at the Marion Matters debriefing session Friday afternoon, reminding students that in the same way that Jesus “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” the motivation for service “isn’t just the act of service—it is how service is combined in our total giving of ourselves.”
Butler hopes Marion Matters participants will continue to volunteer during and after their time at Judson. “Service to your neighbors is about so much more than just Marion Matters today; it’s a way of life,” Butler said. “As you figure out what talents or skills God has uniquely given you, consider how you can utilize those gifts to be change agents, not only in this community but after you leave this place.”
This story has been edited and shortened from the original version appearing on the Judson College website.