Wilson Day 2016: Plug into Rochester, Connect to Your Community

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My summer jobs

It’s hard to believe how fast the past two-and-a-half months have passed, but somehow here we are with less than one month left before school begins again. I’ve spent this summer juggling two positions at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (the University’s office dedicated to community engagement).

The first—Rochester Urban Fellows Program Leader—is a continuation of the work I did last year as a participant in the Urban Fellows Program. While I spent summer 2015 learning about urban issues through the program’s weekly seminars and community activities and working at a local nonprofit, I’ve spent summer 2016 making sure the program was the best it could be for this year’s fellows.

The second—Wilson Day Coordinator—is a throwback to my very first days on campus as a Rochester freshman. For the past 27 years, the Wilson Day of Service has been an integral part of freshman orientation. Named for one of the University’s most treasured graduates/trustees/donors, Joseph Wilson, Wilson Day gives each incoming class the chance to connect with the broader Rochester community and work alongside some of the city’s most dedicated community leaders. And this year, I’ve had the honor of bringing the 28th Annual Wilson Day to fruition as head coordinator.

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Wilson Day 2016

Wilson Day 2016 will kick off at 11:30 am on Monday, August 29 with the opening speeches and send-off. By noon, the Class of 2020 will be boarding a fleet of 30+ buses, sack lunches in hand, to head to over 70 Rochester community organizations. Freshman groups ranging in size from 10 to 100 will spend the next four hours learning about their host site and helping staff to complete a service project. Projects involve everything from gardening at the Phillis Wheatley Library to preparing classrooms for Rochester City School District schools to repainting the gallery at the Community Design Center of Rochester. Around 4:30 pm, students will head back to campus for ice cream and some good, old fashioned reflection led by upperclassman leaders dedicated to community engagement.

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A flawed model?

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that while our goal is to promote community engagement, we are working with an inherently flawed model. One four-hour service project does not equal true engagement; true connections cannot be made in a single afternoon, and hordes of 18-year-olds with little knowledge of the city really don’t have a whole lot to offer when it comes to “serving” their new community. But while I recognize that one-time service by relatively uninformed volunteers can be rather problematic, I also believe that Wilson Day can be an important first step for new Rochester students on their way to becoming truly engaged and productive citizens of the Flower City.

If nothing else, Wilson Day gives incoming students a chance to see an area of Rochester they may never have discovered on their own. Wilson Day gives freshmen a chance to meet community members who truly care about Rochester, and it shows them that the River Campus isn’t an island, a bubble, or any other kind of entity all to itself.

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Plug into Rochester

Rochester has so much to offer: delicious food, an avid arts scene, a fascinating history, and really wonderful people. Yet, these notable assets too often go undiscovered and unappreciated by Rochester students who are too scared, too uncertain, or too unaware to seek them out. With Wilson Day, we seek to do what we can to show our new students a glimpse of what makes Rochester such a special place to live and inspire them to keep learning and exploring.

This year’s slogan is “Plug into Rochester, Connect to Your Community.” While we can’t ensure that each member of the Class of 2020 truly plugs into the city during their time here, with efforts like Wilson Day, we can help our incoming students make those important connections early on that will hopefully spark their desire to take an active part in the community and make Rochester their new home. And if I can play any part in helping others to discover how extraordinary Rochester is, I’m happy to do it.

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About the author

Jamie Rudd

I'm a member of the Class of 2017 majoring in English and anthropology. Originally from a small town in Oregon, I'm currently the Community Service Chair of the Students Helping Honduras service group and presentation editor of the Campus Times newspaper.

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