Elmhurst College: Building Community, Serving Community

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Building Community, Serving Community

As Taylor Medeiros carefully assembled and packaged plastic bags of food that would go to help feed hungry children around the world, he knew that, only two days into his freshman year at Elmhurst College, he already was making a meaningful impact.

He and about 540 other first-year students packed nearly 120,000 bags of food on Aug. 26, as part of Elmhurst’s “Big Questions: What Will You Stand For?” orientation program. Only three days later, on Aug. 30, 64,000 of the meals packed by Elmhurst students were shipped to Pakistan as part of an emergency delivery to that country, whose people are reeling and desperate as a result of recent floods.

The five-day Big Questions program is designed to get students to assess their beliefs and values at the start of their college experience, so that they will support those ideals and work to uphold them in their time at Elmhurst.

“Big Questions is all about opening students’ minds and hearts to a larger world,” said Elmhurst College President S. Alan Ray.

Dean of Students Eileen Sullivan, who designed the program, emphasized that students are getting a chance to make a significant difference in society. “We are using our power to do good for others, which is different from a lot of the uses of power that we see in the world,” she said.

After an opening day spent on introductions and settling in, students spent their second day not only packing food for the Feed My Starving Children hunger-relief group, but also working through a challenge course and laughing through a game-show-style activity called “Big Questions: Is That Your Final Answer?”

The students began the Feed My Starving Children session by watching a video about hunger and what they could do to help fight it. Then they got to work, measuring and weighing powdered chicken, dehydrated vegetables, soy nuggets and rice while socializing to background music.

Aid relief for Pakistan

“By participating in Feed My Starving Children, each student is given the chance to take direct action in the fight against hunger,” President Ray said. “But more than that, they are invited to think about how a world in which hunger on a global scale can exist, and how through collective action they can play a role in changing that world.”

This year, Feed My Starving Children, an Aurora-based, Christian relief organization, brought its meal-packing operation to Elmhurst College’s Faganel Hall, which allowed all of the first-year students to participate. In previous years, only a portion of the freshman class could travel to the Aurora facility, due to limited space.

“It’s a great way for college students to volunteer and help kids in other countries,” said Medeiros, of Addison. “It’s important that we were able to contribute.”

During the course of the day, four groups of students came through and packed a combined total of 554 boxes containing 119,664 meals.

The food was brought back to FMSC’s warehouse, where it was combined with other recently packed boxes. Under normal circumstances, the food would have been shipped overseas sometime over the next two weeks, But enough food was on hand for FMSC to be able to respond immediately to an emergency request from an aid group in Pakistan.

Billy Nichols, an FMSC staffer, summed up how the work done by Elmhurst freshmen had helped, in a direct and meaningful way, to address the crisis of world hunger: “There’s enough food to feed everyone in the world; it’s just not distributed well enough.”

In Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, “Big Questions: Is That Your Final Answer?” helped to familiarize students, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”-style, with Elmhurst policies. Big groups split into two sides and, amid raucous cheering and humorous comments from the show’s hosts, took turns answering questions like: “What should you check regularly? A. Facebook; B. Campus email; C. Campus mailbox; or D. B and C (D is correct).

“It helped review what you’ve been learning, and it was a fun way to do it,” said Tim Puczkowskyj, of Chicago. “I learned stuff that I haven’t read yet in the handbook.”

Scaling the wall

The third event was a team-building activity held in front of the Frick Center that encouraged communication and camaraderie. The goal was for every group to figure out how to get each member up and over a high, flat, white climbing wall.

The answer: The group had to boost each climber high enough up the wall so that two people at the top of the wall could grab the climber’s arms and pull him or her high enough for the climber to use the top of the wall to get up and over. Everyone else in the group waited at the base of the wall with their arms raised, in case the climber fell. President Ray joined in on the fun and, with a little help, made it over.

“After watching the students work together to help each other scale that wall, I really never doubted that, literally supported by them, I could make it up and over,” he said.

After everyone had climbed the wall, group leaders talked about how the experience relates to achieving success during the school year. “We were able to trust each other really fast,” said Marissa Clougher, of Schaumburg. “It helps initiate communication quickly.”

“The day was pretty hands-on and focused on building community and serving community,” Sullivan said. “They really jelled in the small groups. That’s one of our objectives.”

Only two days into the program, Medeiros already was feeling comfortable at Elmhurst. “The whole process really does answer your questions,” he said. “It gives you the tools you need to do well during the year.”

Elmhurst College students participating in Feed My Starving Children, a Christian relief organization located in Aurora, Illinois

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