Common Good Day 2019 volunteers at the Topsham Library. The volunteers helped organize a large book sale and did some landscaping on the library grounds. Contributed / Topsham Public Library

Bowdoin College is dropping its Common Good Day tradition this fall for a year-round iteration, which it hopes will make an even greater positive impact on the community.

Bowdoin College students pitch in with landscaping at the Topsham Public Library on a previous Common Good Day. Contributed / Topsham Public Library

The college has held a voluntary Common Good Day each September since 1998 so that some 450 students could perform a community service for a variety of local groups and organizations in the Bath-Brunswick area. Often, the students would do jobs that would be difficult for the groups to get to otherwise, such as deep cleaning a food pantry or researching grants for a small nonprofit.

With the new year-round Common Good Project Teams, more groups should be able to be on the receiving end, said Sarah Seames, director of Bowdoin’s McKeen Center for the Common Good. Some groups in the past didn’t have volunteer opportunities in September or had larger needs at other times of the year, she said.

“Most often it’s something the organization needs a large group of people for and can’t get to in their day-to-day,” Seames said. “We are expecting that to say the same, but the biggest adjustment for organizations is that it doesn’t have to be on a day we determine in the summer. They can tell us what works best for them.”

Organizations the school has helped include Oasis Free Clinics, public libraries, the Independence Association and ArtVan.

At the Topsham Public Library, students have organized book sales, built gardens and done landscaping and maintenance.


“The change in the day does expand the possibilities for other kinds of things, said library Director Susan Preece. “When we’ve had a big event or program there’s been times when we slugged through a job and said ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had Bowdoin here?’ They’ve been very helpful.”

Artvan, a Bath-based mobile therapeutic arts nonprofit, has benefited from Common Good Day since it started, usually with 30 students or so turning out to help on that day each year, according to Director Jamie Silvestri. Year-round “ongoing support would be wonderful,” she said. 

“I can definitely see us using the program year-round,” Silvestri said. “We bring the students to one of our neighborhoods …  A lot of freshmen come in and are learning about nonprofits. They are enthusiastic, new to all of this and it’s a wonderful and beautiful opportunity for them.”

Bowdoin junior Jessica Bae, who helps organize the Common Good project, said the opportunity to give back year-round will feel “more intentional.” 

The one-day event was “a good starting point for students to get to know groups and get excited about community service,” she said, but it was “a short day.” 

“I’m excited to see the changes,” Bae said.


Bae said Common Good helps burst the perceived “bubble” encompassing the campus that keeps students separated from the community.

“It’s given students exposure to these organizations and connections to continue working with them,” Bae said.

Seames said the programming will align with student schedules and at least for now likely won’t take place during college breaks.

“We are grateful to the community for the opportunities they give our students to learn,” Seames said. “When we think about our partners, we think in terms of a real partnership. Everyone should benefit and our students really do.”

Students can begin signing up for Common Good teams in August. Organizations interested in participating should contact McKeen Center Associate Director Andrew Lardie at [email protected].

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