Ethel Willard is 74, retired and admits she could use some help from time to time. So when a group of Anderson University students knocked on her door approximately three years ago, she was overjoyed.
“They’ve helped me in many ways,” said Willard. “I had difficulty getting my gutters cleaned, and they did that. When I had eye surgery, they just came by to check on me. I think they are just wonderful.”
Willard is not the only one who has benefited from students who participate in AU Neighbors, a student-led ministry designed to serve the community while building relationships and offering prayer.
Norman and Stacey McMillian said the group has been a blessing.
“They have come down, cleaned out my gutters, planted flowers, cleaned up the brush in our yard and even remodeled our bathroom,” said Norman, 50. “I’m at the point where I can’t climb the ladders and do all the things I used to. They are out here about every other week asking if we need anything done.”
Their 10-year-old daughter, Alyssa, also likes the group because “it’s fun hanging out with college kids.”
AU Neighbors was established in the fall 2005 by students Matt Ingalls and Sean Hudson.
Both on the cross country team, Ingalls and Hudson began to notice that families and individuals in the area needed help.
“Sean and I were leading a Bible study, and we talked about how struck we were by the neighborhood around AU,” said Ingalls, 21. “We felt we needed to so something.”
Going out once a week on Sundays, Ingalls and Hudson gathered a group to knock on doors and just offer help — in any way.
“We just decided this was the best way to help people and get to serve people and pray for them,” said Ingalls. “We explain to people who we are and just ask them if there is anything they need us to do. We’ve been turned down, but we’ve also built some lasting friendships.”
When Ingalls and Hudson launched the program, there were about eight students involved. Today, there are about 30 who cover seven “districts” mapped out by student leaders.
Not only has the ministry grown on AU’s campus, but it has been picked up by four other Christian schools as well.
“Last year, a girl at Huntington College caught wind of what we were doing and decided she wanted to do the same,” said Ingalls. “Sean and I invited her here first to follow us through what we do, and then we went there to take her and her friends around the neighborhood.”
According to Stuart Erny, director of campus ministries, under which the Neighbors ministry falls, Indiana Wesleyan University, Taylor University and a college in Michigan have all started Neighbors ministries.
AU Neighbors has several goals but their motto says it all: Serve, love, pray.
“We’re here just to love on people,” said junior Joshua Weiger, 21. “Our goal is to unite the community of AU to the broader Anderson area while serving them and praying with them.”
Along with those they are helping, the students involved admitted they take away just as much.
“I love it,” said Lindsey Marler, 20. “You go into it thinking you are going to help them. Then you realize they are helping you. I feel like we’re doing exactly what God has called us to do — love, serve, pray. It’s more than rewarding. I’m amazed to see God’s hands unfold.”
With summer rapidly approaching, the students threw a celebration recently behind Park Place Church of God for all the neighbors.
With a giant inflatable moonwalk, badminton, Frisbees and even a piñata, the kids in the neighborhood were having a blast.
“I’m having so much fun,” said Alyssa, holding a potato chip. “It’s good food. I like the games.”
As the afternoon progressed, more and more neighbors came out just to sit and talk or bring their kids out for some fun.
“That’s the whole idea,” said Ingalls. “We just want to build relationships and let people know we are here to love them.”
Along with serving the community around Anderson University, both Hudson and Ingalls said they would like to have local churches get involved to minister to even more people.
“We are more than happy to talk to pastors or members of churches who would like to start this in their community,” said Ingalls. “It’s easy, and we can show them how to get started.”
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.