April 30, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty students, staff, and faculty were sent out into the community Saturday, before the end of the semester, to support their neighbors as part of the sixth Serve Lynchburg. This year, 1,289 student volunteers traveled to 93 different service locations— including schools, churches, and many other organizations— to help with yardwork, food distribution, and other acts of service.
“Liberty University is proud to serve alongside Lynchburg organizations and churches on this day,” LU Serve Director Steven Gillum said. “Serve Lynchburg is an opportunity for our students to honor Jesus Christ and serve together with the community of Lynchburg to make a positive impact.”
Volunteers gathered at the Vines Center early in the morning before being commissioned out to their individual sites, where they served from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Nicole Durham, a senior public health student, provided lawn maintenance for Timberlake United Methodist Church alongside members of her hall leadership team.
“God has already blessed Liberty so much, and I think it’s so great that we can go out into the community and spread that love and be a part of our Lynchburg community and out of our Liberty bubble,” said Durham, who currently serves as a Community Group Leader on East Campus.
Senior church ministries student Blu Lemaster decided to serve through yardwork and mulching at E.C. Glass High School.
“Liberty is such a huge part of Lynchburg… So, it’s really important that we as Liberty students are willing to give back to the community that has already given so much to us,” she said.
Liberty students serving at E.C. Glass also helped prepare the school for a visit from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, which is scheduled for May 4. In addition to the physical service that students provided at the school, Lemaster noted the lasting impact that Liberty could have on the high school students there.
“In a few years, these high school students are going to be looking to the future and what they are going to be doing,” she said. “Even just seeing that Liberty students care a lot about the community that they’re part of because they live here is really important while they’re looking for colleges, whether it is Liberty or another school, looking to see schools that are dedicated to the community around them.
Finals week often leaves students stressed about preparing for exams and heading home for the summer, but sophomore Marie-Valerie Zappardino-Johnson chose to focus her attention on helping others.
“God does so much for us in our lives and we can give one day out of our busy weeks to serve other people that need help,” she said. “(Today) is about showing God’s love and showing that we can take time out of our own lives to do it. Not everyone has the luxury to take time off and take weekends off. If we can be there in our community to help people that need help, that’s a great thing for us to do as Christians.”
Zappardino-Johnson also noted that service often means stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to meet the needs of others.
For some Liberty students, Serve Lynchburg allows a continuation of service that they are already doing. This is the case for junior Hannah Klepper, who currently serves regularly at Food For Thought, a local food bank affiliated with Park View Community Mission. She spent the day serving at Park View, this time with fellow Liberty students.
“I love (Serve Lynchburg),” said Klepper, who is studying respiratory therapy. “Not a lot of other colleges do this, so this is really awesome that I get to serve with other people who like to serve as well.”
Saturday’s event also included appearances by university leadership, including Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell, Vice President of Spiritual Development Josh Rutledge, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Mark Hine, and LU Serve Executive Director Dr. Lew Weider, who encouraged the volunteers. The group was also joined by Lynchburg Mayor Stephanie Reed and her husband Dale.
After the event, students returned to campus for the Student Activities After Party, which took place from 5-10 p.m. and included live music, food trucks, carnival rides, local vendors, and more.