On a sunny Saturday afternoon in March, students, staff and friends of the university toiled away on various neighborhood beatification projects throughout the Holly and East Cesar Chavez neighborhoods. They were participating in the 16th annual Project, one of the largest single-day-of-service events in Texas.
“There are many reasons why I love volunteering for The Project,” says Jessica Lejos, a biochemistry senior. “Nothing can compare to that moment when they say, ‘Thank you so much. What you did means so much to us.'”
Connecting students with their local community and getting them involved in service learning aligns with the mission of the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement, a unit within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, which organizes UT Project. After seeing the impressive results from last year’s day of service, the organizers decided to return to the same neighborhoods to continue assisting residents in need and combatting the effects of the swift gentrification of the area.
Sylvia Marroquin, one of several home owners who is benefitting from The Project, says the day of service is a huge relief for residents who are often repainting graffiti from their walls and repairing vandalized property. She believes the day of service is a win-win for the East Austin community and the students.
“These students are saving me a lot of work,” Marroquin said as she busily prepared breakfast tacos for her team of painters and landscapers. “I love that they’re here helping out our neighborhood and getting involved in community service. What’s most important is that UT is teaching them how to give back early in life.”
Lejos, who serves as logistics co-chair of the event, attributes much of The Project’s success to Home Depot, which provided a generous $10,000 grant this year. The store also offered free clinics for hundreds of students in need of construction and landscaping skills from painting houses to building picnic tables to planting flower beds.
A large part of Home Depot’s mission is to give back to the local community, particularly veteran housing, says Sean McMullen, specialty assistant store manager at Home Depot’s Woodward Street location.
“We do hundreds of projects for the city and we really love the UT Project because we can make a big impact in a short period of time,” McMullen says.
In addition to The Project in East Austin, dozens of Texas Exes chapters participated in the second annual Project Worldwide during the entire month of February. Read more about how UT alumni gave back to communities in Texas and around the world.