Ready to serve

Step Forward Day provides service opportunities for students new to Mizzou.

MU students participating in Step Forward Day
Mizzou students who take part in Step Forward Day can volunteer in many areas, including helping food banks and pantries, cleaning up litter, or removing invasive plant species. Courtesy photo.

By Jesse Berlin

Tigers gain more from Step Forward Day than the satisfaction of helping the Columbia community. They also walk away from the experience with new friends.

“As a first-year student, campus can seem large and out of reach,” said senior Lydia Jefferson, a Step Forward Day site leader. Volunteering helps like-minded students meet one another, she said.

“We try to make the new students feel like they’re connected not only to the people they’re serving in the Columbia community but also the students around them,” Jefferson said.

This year, Step Forward Day is Sept. 11. Interested students – including first-year, transfer, graduate and international students – can sign up on MU Engage. Only 250 spaces are available.

Students can register as either individuals or as part of a group of at least four members. They can choose from 14 service focuses, from education to homelessness and poverty to environmental issues.

Those service focuses become the themes of service sites. Sites include Big Brothers Big Sisters, food banks and pantries, litter cleanup in Columbia’s streams and removal of invasive plant species from Columbia’s green areas.

“I liked seeing the people that my actions are going to directly impact,” said Jefferson, who has volunteered at a domestic violence shelter and veterans’ transition home in the past. “Knowing that I can put a smile on their face, or they don’t have to worry about one more thing on their to-do list for the day.”

Participants are placed in groups of five to 15 members, get free breakfast snacks and a T-shirt, and are transported to and from the service site.

Groups are led by site leaders like Jefferson, who joined this year “to show more people that volunteering is cool and that it doesn’t take a lot out of your day to make someone else’s day.”

Site leaders will educate students on the service sites and social issues addressed there, introduce groups to community partners, and then lead a group reflection on the ride back.

Step Forward Day gives first-year students opportunity to learn more about service at Mizzou, from Caring for Columbia to Tigers for a Cause to Tiger Pantry.

“Many of the students who sign up for Step Forward Day have done service in the past,” said Sarah Rielley, service coordinator in the MU Division of Student Affairs. “Being a part of Step Forward Day gives them a good feel for ways that they can be involved in service at Mizzou.”

Step Forward Day also shows first-year students how campus and the Columbia community work hand-in-hand towards a mutually beneficial relationship.

“I hope students walk away from Step Forward Day seeing how they could be a part of this new community, the new town they get to call home,” Rielley said.

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