Peayple in the Community: APSU dedicates more than 1,200 volunteer hours to Clarksville causes
By: Ethan Steinquest and Zoe Huffman October 27, 2023
More than 600 Austin Peay State University students, faculty and staff fanned out across Clarksville on Wednesday, Oct. 25, volunteering for a combined 1,214 hours with several local organizations during the inaugural Peayple in the Community, A Day of Service.
Alexandra Wills, Austin Peay’s director for Community Engagement & Sustainability, coordinated the volunteers to ensure each site had plenty of support. From Loaves & Fishes to the American Red Cross, the Govs left a lasting impact through their efforts.
“Austin Peay’s mission says that we are a community-minded institution, and we believe in living that out,” said Dannelle Whiteside, vice president of Legal Affairs and Organizational Strategy. “We thought this would be a meaningful way to demonstrate how we believe in putting our hands toward the betterment of the Clarksville community.”
The event was also designed to foster engagement through service outside the traditional academic environment, strengthening community relationships while promoting student success.
“Being in the health professions, we’re all about serving our community – and what better way to do that than to volunteer with all of our people,” said Dr. Jennifer Thompson, associate professor and program director of radiography. “All of our rad tech students are together [here], and we’re building that family that we’ve already established in the classroom by working in the community.”
Thompson and several of her students were among those who volunteered to pack to-go bags for Manna Café Ministries. The nonprofit operates a mobile soup kitchen, food box distributions and more to address food insecurity.
“I wanted to get involved in the community since I’m not from here, and I’ve really enjoyed putting food in the bags for everyone,” said freshman Whitney Birdwell. “I feel like I’m going to leave here with more knowledge on how to help people out and serve the community.”
Others worked to unbox Christmas trees and organize items at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a donation center that supports the nonprofit’s homebuilding efforts.
“This was actually a requirement for my APSU 1000 class, but I’m glad I did it,” said freshman psychology major Sarah Hefty. “I like learning about what they do here and how they help the community … seeing that makes me want to volunteer here more often and shop [at the ReStore] so that money goes back to them.”
Asante Zepeda, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County’s volunteer coordinator, said the team from Austin Peay also provided essential support for the organization’s sidewalk sale.
“It means everything to have them with us today,” she said. “It’s people like them that we’re able to have the ReStore. There’s no way we’d be able to put out all the donations we get every day by ourselves, so volunteers really help and impact the store that we have.”
Timothy Johnson, vice chair of the board for the American Red Cross’s Tennessee River Chapter, said volunteers from the Govs softball program left a similar impact. The team spent the morning washing and vacuuming the nonprofit’s vehicle fleet, and inventoried its disaster trailer to make sure it was stocked with essential supplies.
“The Red Cross is all about being embedded within the community and knowing what we can bring to the table, and volunteering is one of the big things that we need,” he said. “The fact that somebody is coming here to volunteer for us and with us like this is incredibly important.”
Austin Peay Head Softball Coach Kassie Stanfill said the team has previously volunteered with the American Red Cross and appreciated the chance to strengthen their relationship.
“We’re getting the chance to really build a connection,” she said. “The second time you come around to volunteer, they know you by name, and you can have a conversation with them. It’s truly a relationship that goes both ways.”
Whiteside said the University plans to develop Peayple in the Community, A Day of Service into an annual event to give more students, staff and faculty the opportunity to get involved.
“At both places that I volunteered, everybody was smiling and excited, and they felt so good about having done something to help out,” she said. “We’re happy to serve the community, and we thank our community partners for opening their doors and allowing us to give back.”
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