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Community responds to Welcome Week

The Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees Sept. 17 heard a Welcome Week recap from Vice President of Student Services Dr. Joseph Odenwald, including gratitude from ACTION Ministries for assistance that SMC students provided on Friday’s Community Service Day. ACTION — Area Churches Together in One Network — operates a food pantry at 301 Main St. in Dowagiac. After being oriented to their new community Thursday evening, Aug. 30, with a Downtown at Dusk scavenger hunt, concert and barbecue picnic, many SMC students returned Aug. 31 to volunteer.

“ACTION Ministries runs a large food pantry here in town,” said Karen Benedix, accompanied by Patsy Meachum. “We serve 45 to 50 families every Saturday during a two-hour period. With all the management of the food pantry itself, we haven’t had time to take care of the yard and wash windows, so about 10 students took care of that for us. I have never seen a more excited, exuberant bunch of young people. They were so happy to be there helping us and we were just as happy to have them.”

Benedix said besides stacking food pallets in a semi, “I had three or four young women inside and out washing the big windows on the former Groner Funeral Home, which takes tall ladders. Three or four edged sidewalks around the building to make it look neater. Nobody shied away from work. We’re really glad you had this program. We always need volunteers to carry groceries upstairs and out to cars.”

Odenwald’s service group painted curb markings in downtown Dowagiac. “People stopped and asked what we were doing. When they found out, they brought us water.” Odenwald said such endeavors help students immerse in campus life while building new relationships. “I think of it like germination. It’s so very critical the first couple of weeks that students make connections and put down roots,” Odenwald said.

The 2018 Welcome Week started with students moving into residence halls Aug. 30 and concluded Sept. 8 with the second annual Renaissance Faire.

“One thousand and 133 attended events; 439 were unique, which tells us on average, students attended three events,” Odenwald said. “The biggest was Sunday night’s Green and Gold Dance. Attendance averaged 50 per event. Our event in Dowagiac in conjunction with the Chamber exceeded 100. After our tailgate (with the Notre Dame-University of Michigan football game live streamed outdoors on a large screen), I’ve still got small burns from frying catfish, but I sold these Michiganders on southern catfish. A student hollered at me today, ‘Dr. Joe, catfish is the bomb!’

“What I’m seeing is good fall-engagement numbers,” Odenwald said. “We have 29 women playing intramural volleyball. We’ve got four intramural flag football teams. We have 36 signed up so far to go to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids Oct. 6. We’re seeing more students getting involved on the front end because we had so much going on right out of the gate.”

In preparation for this fall, student leadership development training was afforded to 10 Welcome Week leaders, five from the Council of Clubs and nine resident assistants from the three SMC residence halls. “Those students put in a lot of hours for two T-shirts and some catfish,” Odenwald said, noting Keith H. McKenzie Hall captured the annual Roadrunner Cup.

“This year, we’re going to challenge all our student organizations to do a community-service event,” Odenwald said. “All students who went through leadership training had their strengths assessed and learned conflict resolution and fast decision-making when things don’t go as planned.”

On Friday, Oct. 26, SMC’s Honors Program hosts students from Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). Last spring, for Earth Day, SMC sent students and faculty to South Bend to clean up the St. Joseph River banks.

“We’re going to work in the pollinator field on the corner of Cherry Grove Road and Mathews Street with Stacey Rocklin (Michigan State University’s coordinator for the Institute of Agricultural Technology at SMC),” said Mark Pelfrey, Honors Program co-founder and math instructor.

Odenwald said SMC students will also participate Nov. 8 in United Way of Southwest Michigan’s annual Day of Action for Seniors to “Rake a Difference.”