This wasn’t the first time OUAZ has hosted a Serve Day near the holidays, but this year’s event was a whole different ballgame, thanks in large part to Campus Ministries intern Abi Deshaies.
In the past, Serve Day consisted primarily of collecting canned goods for the homeless and toys for the Toys for Tots organization – both good causes, for sure, but not ones that the students could personally connect with. And that’s what Deshaies wanted to change.
“It was on my heart to do something that would connect students with stories of real people and leaders of non-profits who help people every day,” shared Deshaies. To do that, she networked to form relationships with organizations who would come to campus on Serve Day, November 15, to share what they do and who they serve, visit personally with students, and give students the opportunity to volunteer with the non-profit in the future.
“I wanted these leaders to communicate their ‘why’ for serving,” said Deshaies. “I wanted students to not just bring food to be given to anonymous families, but to connect with those families – to hear their stories; to learn what kind of child is getting the toy they brought and why he or she needs it. Because then it becomes personal for the students – it’s not just checking off a ‘good deed.’”
Campus Pastor Alan Boelter was thrilled with what Deshaies wanted to do. “All semester we prepped students in Spirit Life for Serve Day by communicating that life isn’t about you,” said Boelter. “We focused on getting students to look outside of themselves and understand that life is about God and others - that we need to have servant hearts and be aware of what’s going on around the world so we can help intentionally however we can.”
Deshaies lined up four organizations for the students to collect assigned items for. Prior to Serve Day, the non-profits shared videos and other information during the weekly Spirit Life service to connect students with their missions and stories of clients they serve. When Serve Day finally arrived, representatives from each organization spoke during Spirit Life and set up booths in the gym where students could drop off their donated items, as well as visit with the non-profit leaders.
- Revive – Located in Surprise, Revive works with a variety of groups, such as the homeless, after-school kids, and families in need. OUAZ students purchased supplies like plastic ware, paper plates, granola bars, Bandaids, socks, wipes, and mac and cheese for the organization’s clients. By the end of Serve Day, 35 students had signed up to volunteer with Revive next semester.
- Wash the City – This organization provided a unique way for students to get involved in its ministry that supports the homeless and underprivileged youth. With a screen press in tow, students brought t-shirts and watched as Wash the City printed its logo on them, along with information about how to get resources. The shirts are distributed to potential clients as a wearable “flyer.” The young leadership generated a great deal of interest among the students for working with the ministry going forward.
- Grad Solutions – Grad Solutions is a charter alternative school and GED program that helps students facing challenges that inhibit their ability to graduate from high school. OUAZ students brought snacks to provide to the students enrolled in the school.
- United Prevention – Students also learned about a group in Surprise, United Prevention, that works with students to prevent youth substance abuse and educates them about drug and alcohol use.
In all, close to 500 of the 750 students on campus participated in Serve Day, donating over 2,800 items for those in need. More than that, they got connected with the “why” and the “who.”
“Students show up to Spirit life and hear speaker after speaker talk about who Jesus is,” shared Deshaies. “Serve Day gave them an opportunity to see what it looks like to live out their faith – to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the messiness and brokenness of the community. Because that’s who Jesus was - He washed people’s dirty feet, touched lepers, restored prostitutes. Serve Day helped students get out of their comfort zone to go out and serve those they otherwise may never associate with.”
Deshaies just completed her undergraduate degree at Ottawa University in exercise science. She will begin the Master of Arts in Counseling in March. She has started bible studies and worship nights on campus and is regularly involved in Spirit Life. Her biggest focus, however, has been revamping Serve Day into an event that would impact and change the students who participate. Mission accomplished!