PORTLAND – Much like a holiday, there is a day at the University of Southern Maine celebrated and recognized only once a year, though the spirit this day is based on lives throughout the 364 days that surround it.

This year, our holiday, the University of Southern Maine’s Day of Service, was celebrated April 19. On that one day, for five hours, 71 USM students, faculty and staff and seven community partners created waves of change.

While the power that service can have in the community is truly realized on this day, its strength is built in the days that precede it.  

So then, let’s rewind, to the day that Andrea Thompson McCall, director of service learning, started working at USM and began to fight for and promote the value of students serving in the community — not only to fulfill their civic duty but also for the mutual and aligned benefit of co-curricular learning.

Or, how about even further back, to the year 1993, when President Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, thus creating AmeriCorps?

The impact of this law can be seen in the range of domestic community service programs, and therefore opportunities for individuals to serve, that have since been created in our nation.

Its relevance can be noted in the fact that between 1999 and 2013, USM has captured the benefits of 20 AmeriCorps VISTA one-year terms of service and 101 part-time AmeriCorps terms of service.

Or, how about just four short years ago, when the first Day of Service was celebrated here at USM?

Regardless of the time spanned in our nation, or here on the USM campus, the importance of service and civic responsibility is clear.

The belief in the power of service and its roots in our community are not the only things that created this year’s successful USM Day of Service.

Throughout its years in the community, USM has facilitated partnerships with students, faculty and local organizations in need, to combine academic goals and course objectives with practical, hands-on learning in the Portland area.

These relationships allow for identified needs to be addressed with collaborative service projects, and therefore help decrease the gap between what our community organizations have and what they deserve.

As Charlie Baldwin, volunteer coordinator and construction manager of Portland Trails, puts it, “For the past few years USM has sent Portland Trails some terrific volunteers for their Day of Service. Every year their efforts help Portland Trails further our mission to preserve green space for public access and connect people with places.”

This powerful network between the university campus and the neighbors that surround and often uphold it has provided hundreds of hours of service to the community.

It is on our Day of Service that we give tribute to these relationships with more service. Partners that participated in this year’s event include Rippling Waters Organic Farm, Partners for World Health, Portland Trails, Portland’s Back Cove Trail and Longfellow Park and, for the first time, Maine Veterans’ Home and Peaks Island.

Amanda Maddalone, an instrumental part of the event’s organization, also understands service first-hand as an AmeriCorps member at USM.

Recalling this year’s Day of Service, she says, “It was a fantastic collaboration between different offices on campus and multiple community partners. It was a team effort, and everyone’s hard work paid off.”

So then, we have the holiday, the history, the strong network of community partners and the collaboration to get it done. The final and essential piece is the students themselves.

Over the course of the semester, hundreds of students participate in service learning projects in the community. On this Day of Service, we were joined by those students who wished to serve more, those who hadn’t yet gotten the chance to serve and student organizations on campus seeking involvement.

Of the 71 students, faculty and staff who joined us on the fourth annual Day of Service, 10 student organizations were represented, as well as staff from several administrative offices around campus. Without campus support and enthusiasm, an event like this would not be possible.

Ciarra Pickens, a USM student who served at Rippling Waters Organic Farm, says it best: “Putting aside my life for the day to lend a hand … reminded me of how we can all work together in this tiny earth of ours and make it work.”

Happy Day of Service! And thank you to all of those who came together to make it happen.

Molly De Cleene, programs coordinator in the University of Southern Maine’s Office of Community Service Learning, is an AmeriCorps VISTA-Maine Campus Compact member.