20 Years and Counting: CMC’s Freshman Orientation Service Project Still Gives Incoming Students a Sense of Pride and Camaraderie; This Fall Marks 20th Anniversary of Project

The tradition continues, as does the elbow grease.

On Saturday, Sept. 1, more than 200 students (175 CMC freshmen, 35 orientation sponsors, and R.A.s), supervised by eight staff members, rolled up their sleeves and diligently pitched in on community service projects in Claremont, Pomona, and La Verne.

The Freshman Orientation Service Project, as it is called, is a time-honored CMC tradition that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and offers first-year underclassmen a chance to bond over community improvement tasks before the start of fall semester. Amy Bibbens, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at CMC, says the service project is a component of freshman orientation, and the only project of its kind among The Claremont Colleges.

In addition to the service program’s milestone anniversary, this was also the first year that freshmen worked in three different locations. Up until now, students have been dispatched to a single community service location a tricky challenge when you need enough space and work to keep some 200 students and staff busy, Bibbens says. Oak Park, a cemetery in Claremont has worked in the recent past, with students raking leaves, picking up trash, and even fixing head markers.

This year, Bibbens coordinated the project through the CCE, and volunteers were divided into three teams at three different locations. “It gives us opportunities to reach out to new community partners, and will hopefully provide conversation points for the students once the project is complete,” Bibbens says.

The three Freshman Orientation Service projects this year were:

Fiddleneck Farm, PomonaThis farm is in partnership with Uncommon Good and their Pomona Valley Urban Agriculture Initiative, which has a goal of developing sustainable farms for local employment and access to healthy food. Freshmen worked on this plot of land to prepare it for planting. They built a rock wall and partitions for various parts of the garden, spread compost in the planting beds, cleared areas for planting, and generally prepared the area for planting season this month.

David & Margaret Youth and Family Services, La VerneThis organization provides a residential treatment program for adolescent girls, a foster family agency, adoption assistance, and other mental health services. CMCers worked on clearing a plot of land that will be used for construction of a new building. They also cleared weeds and leveled the dirt.

City of Claremont, Padua ParkPadua is a soccer field/community park in Claremont. Students weeded and cleaned an area, and spread mulch in another area containing exercise equipment.

“We have worked with the city of Claremont in the past, but not with David & Margaret Youth and Family Services, so we were both glad to start a new partnership,” Bibbens says. “Michael Peel ’07 is the development and jobs director at Uncommon Good, so that was an added plus we like supporting an alumnus. CMC currently works with Uncommon Good in their mentoring program, as some of our students serve as Uncommon Good mentors,” Bibbens added. “But we had not worked with the Urban Agriculture program before.”

For one incoming freshman, Zacariah John Oquenda ’16, who worked at Fiddleneck Farm, the project was a great icebreaker.

“It was different from other orientation activities,” Oquenda says, “in that it wasn’t some arbitrary game, but rather a more meaningful experience that gave back to a community that we, the freshmen at CMC, have recently joined. And I hope that sense of community continues to unite us down the road.”

Oquenda, who’s still wavering between a government and philosophy double major or possibly a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics interdisciplinary major, says the experience will live long in his memory.

“We all worked hard despite the heat, and transformed the garden lot,” he says. “But it wasn’t limited to that. There was much more in the experience such as new conversation, laughter, and, in my opinion, even enjoyment.

“I’m sure that I can speak for everyone,” he adds, “when I say we appreciated the opportunity to make even a small difference, especially when we gained what we didnew friends and a new memory.”

In Bibbens’ view, Oquenda’s experience is what the service project is all about. The overarching goal is to provide additional off-campus opportunities for the freshman students to bond and get to know each other while introducing them to the community.

“We hope to instill in freshmen the idea that community engagement and service is an important part of their educational process,” she says. “By including this event in the first thing they do (orientation) it will hopefully communicate that this concept is important to CMC.”