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Evangel University freshmen serve local Springfield residents through Convoy of Hope outreach

August 26, 2013 | Ian Richardson

The 400 college students dressed in light blue shirts adorned with the iconic Convoy of Hope heart-shaped helping hands insignia had only officially been a part of the Springfield community for about 24 hours. But they were ready to give back.

On Saturday, August 24, 2013, four tour buses filled with Evangel University freshmen and student leaders left the Evangel campus and headed to a block party. There, the students partnered with Convoy of Hope and several local churches to serve residents of Springfield’s Grant Beach and Midtown neighborhoods, many of whom live below the poverty level, with free groceries, new shoes, haircuts, family portraits, and a kids zone filled with games and bounce houses.

The service learning outreach, a part of Evangel’s new student orientation week known as EU Launch, has become an annual tradition for the university.

“Community service is so much part of our DNA that it’s been really important for us to continue offering that opportunity when possible,” says Christy Rowden, student activities director for Evangel.

Convoy of Hope

Saturday’s outreach by Evangel students was part of Convoy of Hope’s new Elevate initiative.

About 900 guests were served during the outreach, according to Convoy of Hope.

“It was a beautiful sight to see such a spectacular outreach for the community,” says EU Launch Leader and Evangel junior Taylor Vance.

Vance’s group served on location at Pipkin Middle School, some members working in the kids zone, some working at the family portrait tent and some emptying trashcans and talking with the people who attended. She says the most memorable part was seeing the children so energetic about receiving all of the services for free.

“The people we were serving, especially the children, were so excited to be there,” she says. “They were running around, playing on the blow-ups, grabbing more food than they could eat, getting to pick out new shoes and getting their hair cut.”

The project was part of a new Convoy of Hope ministry called Elevate, which seeks to reach poorer neighborhoods around the United States by establishing lasting relationships between the people in the community and the local churches. Saturday’s project launched Elevate’s initiative in Springfield.

This particular outreach targeted the Grant Beach and Midtown neighborhoods of Springfield, which are nearby Evangel University’s campus. According to the Springfield, Missouri website, 80 to 100 percent of the students in this area are on free and reduced lunch plans, which is an indication that most of the residents in these neighborhoods have a significantly higher poverty rate than the national average.

“One thing I love about this project is that students got to work within basically our own neighborhood,” says Rowden. “The areas we worked with are basically our backyard.”

Freshman Kyla Cline says she had never heard of a college incorporating a community service project into its new student orientation before coming to Evangel. “I think it’s interesting because it helps us get together, and then we’re also helping the community,” Cline says. “I think it’s a good start to a school year.”

Cline’s role during the afternoon was to hand out groceries to the guests who attended. She says she found herself thinking about each family’s story, wondering what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis.

“It was cool to be able to just help them out in a small way,” Cline says. “I’m sure most of them were probably going through hard times, so it was neat for us to be able to give them something to make their lives a little bit easier.”
Freshman Clayton Kranik worked with a couple other students to run one of the many games in the kids zone. He says the children looked like they had a lot of fun in the carnival-like atmosphere as they exchanged free tickets to play games and win prizes.

Along with getting to know the people he worked with better, Kranik says the day helped him feel more a part of Evangel, and the experience resonated with his love for community outreach.

“I’ve been doing service project work all summer,” he says, “so I was like, ‘Cool, this place is doing the same stuff, so why not love it here?’”

Evangel has partnered with Convoy for its EU Launch service activity for several years now, most recently for the Joplin tornado cleanup in 2011 and food packaging in 2012. This year, Rowden says, Evangel had to limit participation in the service project to incoming freshman students because of the sheer number of this fall’s new student enrollment.
While freshmen were working the Convoy event, more than 100 transfer students were spread throughout the community doing other service projects.

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