AUSTIN, Texas—Sarah Phelps surveyed the wooden siding covering the entire exterior of the old house and its adjacent garage. The peeling paint would have to be scraped away from both structures before a new coat could be applied. An old washing machine and piles of rotting boards blocked the garage entrance alongside blocks of broken concrete. Phelps glanced anxiously at her small work crew.
“It’s going to be a long, but very worthwhile, day,” said Phelps, a junior in Latin American studies at UT Austin.
Two hours later, more than 20 of her fellow volunteers had descended on the property. A growing pile of rubbish near the curb, and a fresh coat of paint beginning to appear on one side of the house, seemed to show that the impossible was becoming a reality.
That was one among numerous themes that echoed throughout eight blocks of this East Austin neighborhood Saturday, where an estimated 1,500 UT Austin students, faculty and staff members worked much of the day during Project 2001, the University’s largest volunteer event of the year.
The day’s work united more than 50 campus organizations with neighborhood residents, the Keep Austin Beautiful campaign and corporate sponsors in an effort to beautify 20 homes, an elementary school and the 14-acre Springdale Park at the end of East 12th Street.
Shannon Trilli, a senior government major and co-chair for Project 2001, said the work rewarded student volunteers because they saw a “complete transformation” by the end of the day. Trilli agreed to lead this year’s event after her experience with its predecessor, Project 2000, which centered on another section of East Austin. This is the third year of the University’s main volunteer event.
For project organizers, the day started before 7 a.m. when an 18-wheeler from Home Depot arrived outside Sims Elementary School, the project’s headquarters. About 50 team leaders worked in near-freezing temperatures to unload 20 wheelbarrows and more than 400 tools.
Meanwhile, student groups gathered at the University’s East Mall bus circle, where Austin school buses first arrived at 8:30 a.m. to shuttle students to the neighborhood.
Not only students took part in the work, however. At Springdale Park, Dr. Jin-Ki Yoon, a labor law scholar affiliated with the University’s law school, helped dig out a path for a new hike and bike trail. Yoon, who recently moved from South Korea to the United States, said he brought his wife and two daughters to Project 2001 to show them the value of volunteer work.
“Someday, I will go back to Korea and organize this type of event,” Yoon said. “I am a professor, so it’s somewhat incumbent on me to participate in this and set an example for the students.”
About 50 yards farther down the new trail bed, where volunteers dug with shovels and unearthed rocks with pickaxes, Fred Fuller made way for the trail by clearing overgrown bushes and weeds. The area was covered with thick palo verde, a thorny green plant reaching as high as a basketball goal.
Fuller, a landscape architect for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, said the four to five acres of improvements would have cost as much as $30,000 without the volunteers.
“I just couldn’t help myself,” Fuller said. “I don’t get a chance to do this often, to come out and physically work. I spend most of my day behind a computer.”
Back at Sims Elementary School, a wall that was once plastered with graffiti became the canvas for a new work of art. David Waldrip, a 32-year-old UT Austin alumnus and computer artist, instructed volunteers who worked with a wheelbarrow full of paint cans on another mural near the playground.
Waldrip’s mural depicts the four elements — earth, air, fire, and water — with a tree in the center representing life. He said the mural’s theme of life and nature was a fitting part of Project 2001, especially the work in Springdale Park.
Chandra Washington, whose home was painted by volunteers, said bringing the neighborhood closer to nature was a project long overdue.
“One of the things I didn’t like about this neighborhood is that there’s no place to walk through nature,” said Washington, who heard about the project from a flyer she found on her door. “I was impressed that UT is taking an interest in the East Austin community.”
Texas Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, who last month presented a House resolution praising Project 2001, said there is a need for University students to actively address the concerns of low-income families. He said the project would prompt community leaders to invite more students to volunteer in the future.
“What Project 2001 — and the students volunteering their time for this project — is all about is helping to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Naishtat said.
Mary Fonseca, whose five children worked on the playground at the school, agreed. “I think it’s amazing that UT cares about our little school here,” Fonseca said. “They came all the way over to make this place better. It’s awesome.”
Fonseca’s 7-year-old daughter, Connie, said she wants to “help like the big kids” when she grows up.
Outside the cafeteria, Assistant Principal Jenna Sanders walked through her school’s courtyard. At 9 a.m., the yard consisted of yellow-green grass with a few brick walkways, and a rusty awning covered in crumbling paint.
By noon, a crew of volunteers from Home Depot had replaced sections of the old courtyard with fresh topsoil and Texas-shaped stepping stones. New flowers were planted, and UT Austin students scraped away the old paint and applied a fresh coat to the awning.
“They said, ‘Give us your dream list,'” Sanders said of Project 2001 organizers. “And then they made it happen.”
For photos of Project 2001, go to www.utexas.edu/admin/opa/news/01newsreleases/nr_200103/project2.html