Georgia Southern University

Students come to Georgia Southern early to BUILD

A little elbow grease can go a long way — at least that’s what participants in Georgia Southern University’s Building Undergraduate Involving Leadership Development (BUILD) program can say.

img_9556A total of 120 rising freshmen come for two weeks each summer to the University to participate in the pre-semester leadership program offered through the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (OSLCE). The students spend time working on construction projects in the Bulloch County community with various service organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Kiwanis Fairgrounds and others. “I really like helping because it’s hands on — you can actually see the change you’re making and that’s really cool,” Decatur, Ga., native Ariel Wood said. “It’s also been really helpful connecting with people before the fall semester starts.”

The students participate in community service projects during the day and at night take part in leadership seminars. “Our goal is to help incoming freshmen understand the importance of service and the community they’re in, and this is a way to introduce them to Georgia Southern and Bulloch County so when they get here they know what agencies need volunteers,” said John Banter, leadership coordinator for the BUILD program. “Our philosophy is you have to serve before you can lead.”

img_9552Additionally, 12 upperclassmen from the University assist with the program as BUILD leaders, like junior logistics major Cliff Padgett. He participated in the BUILD program as an incoming freshman and became a leader because of the impact it made on him. “It’s really cool to see how the freshmen get the chance to develop service leadership because you have to serve before you can lead, and when you work and sweat together, you tend to stick together for the time you’re at Georgia Southern,” Padgett said.

The group of students also spent some time this summer in rural Bulloch County at the Willow Hill Center — a historical African-American school that a group of community members have worked to turn into a community and heritage center. “To bring 18-year-old students and put them in a rural area and see the respect and their ability to adapt to this environment is very amazing to me. This is an old building that nobody seemed to care about, and these young people have really changed its face,” said leadership team member Emory Hagins who was on site at Willow Hill to help direct the students.

img_9574“They’re not contractors, they’re not professionals — they’re students who’ve come from their home to help here in Bulloch County. It means so much to Willow Hill because without this program, there would be no way for us to get this done — the painting, yard work and other things these students are doing,” he added.

Dr. Gayle Jackson, the Willow Hill development committee chairperson, said she and other board members and leadership team members are very thankful for the program and volunteers. “Willow Hill has a lot of work to be done so it is fantastic to have such a large team of students do in two weeks what we haven’t been able to do in years,” she said. “When you calculate the manpower and what it would have cost us to do what these students are doing, the contribution is overwhelming. It really has been a joyous experience and a dream to see all this happening.”

img_9601Jackson added she also admires the OSLCE and its programs because she believes strongly in volunteerism and the impact it makes on young people. “Working with the incoming freshmen, we can introduce them to Willow Hill and they will know about Willow Hill as they continue to matriculate through Georgia Southern,” she said. “Willow Hill is in a part of the county that students wouldn’t normally even go to. Participating in the BUILD program allows them to visit the Portal and Willow Hill community and work on a historical school which means they’re contributing to the legacy of that school.”


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