New students to Anderson University on Saturday set a new height to a yearly community project between the university and the city of Anderson, revamping a rundown football field at South Side Middle School.
“They’re just really making it look like a football field,” said Bridget Boyd, the mother of a 7-year-old football player. “It’ll make them (the children) feel like they’re really playing football, instead of running around in grass.”
Denny Field sparkled with the neon orange shirts of about 350 Anderson University transfer students and freshmen who converged for four hours Saturday morning in the biggest orientation project since the Orientation Week event began three years ago.
“When we first came out here, everything was just gray,” said Kim Rayford, a project specialist for the city of Anderson. “This is an absolutely premiere project. I am amazed.”
The students started by clearing out brush under the bleachers and along the fence line. After the Street Department cut overgrown trees, the students dragged the branches to a wood chipper. They also cleaned out an old storage shed and painted the bleachers blue and red.
“We got done with everything we wanted to in about an hour and a half,” said Dean Branson, the university’s director of student programs. “Now we’re just doing extra stuff.”
With the extra time, the new students painted smaller projects: ticket stands, a shed, goal posts and gates.
A smaller group also cleared the brush in the Main Street tunnel. And a few small groups of about 40 students in total helped at Dove Harbor, the Christian Center and Liberty Christian elementary and high schools, Branson said.
Rayford said the Parks Department paid for the paint, brushes were donated by the Water Pollution Control Department and other equipment and tools were left over from the spring Operation Foundation project week.
Branson said Anderson University partnered with the city three years ago in an effort to connect the students with the community as soon as they arrived on campus.
“I thought it was important to connect the students from Anderson University to the city of Anderson,” Branson said.
Emily Meid, the new-student orientation coordinator, is a senior this year and said the project had not yet started her freshman year.
“I can definitely see the difference in students that participate, in their involvement in the campus and in the community,” Meid said.
The projects in the first two years were small, Branson said. Students collected trash in parts of town and painted curbs and over graffiti, he said.
Branson and Rayford said that though Anderson Community Schools, the City of Anderson Transportation Department and nonprofit organizations provide buses to transport the hundreds of students, it’s still hard to get everyone moved to different locations.
“Instead of having them spread out all over the city and do small projects, we just collected them into this one big project,” Rayford said of the Denny Field project.
With that challenge in the back of her mind, Rayford said she and city councilman Rodney Chamberlain, who also coaches the Youth Football League, realized a huge revamp of Denny Field may be the answer. Rayford said the field is hard to maintain since it is only used for the Youth Football League.
“Normally, we would have youth football coaches and volunteers to do this,” Chamberlain said. “But, we really didn’t have enough for them.”
Ariel Smelser, a transfer student from Sheridan, and Aaron Hoff, a transfer student from Terre Haute, said they enjoyed the project because it allowed them to get acquainted with the community sooner.
They said they were excited the parents and children would have a dazzling field to enjoy all season.
“Not all schools do this,” Hoff said, as he yanked weeds from the north side of the football field fence.
Meid said Orientation Week also includes several social events for the newcomers, who are split into 32 groups based on their majors. The groups have “peer mentors” who will be their go-to person throughout the year, she said.
“It gives the new students a sense of stability throughout the whole year,” Meid said.
Next year’s community project has not yet been planned, but Branson and Rayford said they want it to also be a large project.
“I hope next year we can do something on an even bigger scale,” Branson said.
—Christina M. Wright is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.
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 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.