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Students volunteer with local universities, organizations to ‘Back the Bend’

| Monday, April 16, 2018

Braving the cold and rain, students from the tri-campus community and other members of South Bend gathered Saturday to help with a variety of community service projects for the ninth annual “Back the Bend.”

The event was a collaboration between the South Bend community, local universities and organizations — Notre Dame Student Government, Saint Mary’s College, Holy Cross College and Indiana University South Bend’s Student Government Association — and ten other local organizations.

As the student government director of community engagement and outreach, senior Adam Moeller co-led the event with director of faith and service junior Keenan White. Moeller estimated that about 300 to 400 students attended the event.

Photo courtesy of Sully O'Hara
Students from Keough Hall participate in a “Mulch Madness” community service project Saturday as part of “Back the Bend,” a day-long event dedicated to volunteering around South Bend.

“‘Back the Bend’ is, at its simplest level, a community service day, but it’s a lot more than that,” Moeller said. “We tried to focus it on getting students exposed and into the neighborhoods so that they’ll hopefully think about developing relationships with some of these groups. Obviously, these are all organizations who do wonderful things throughout the year and don’t rely on ‘Back the Bend,’ but it is a day when we can all come together and work on really important projects. I think it ends up being a learning moment for a lot of the volunteers, just seeing all the amazing things that community partners do.”

For the event, students and community members worked together on seventeen different projects, including restoring Leeper Park, cleaning trash from a tributary of the St. Joseph River, and a project that Moeller organized, “Mulch Madness” — a project to mulch the soil around homes in the Near Northeast neighborhood to prevent lead exposure from degrading paint chips.

Moeller said that this project, involving roughly 100 students distributing 24 truckloads of mulch around affected homes, demonstrates the often-extensive planning that goes into many of the “Back the Bend” projects.

“It was one day of mulching about a hundred homes, but there was so much more behind that,” he said. “Since October, we were meeting frequently, discussing our plans for this. We spent the last eight weeks working with the workers at the [Near Northeast Neighborhood] to campus the neighborhood and talk to people about the lead issue and how the soil can have very elevated levels of lead.”

Moeller said that, unlike past years, student government allowed and encouraged students to sign up as groups.

“We had eight teams, and most of them were people who had signed up as part of a group, which was another strategy that we introduced this year,” he said. “We approached dorms, clubs, Tau Beta Pi [the engineering honors society] and many other groups. They were all able to work together, and I think that made it a fun group effort to be in a team with people you knew.”

While the event itself is only a single day, Moeller believes that it can have a greater and longer-lasting impact on the participants and community.

“In the immediate sense, the projects that happen are very important because it’s by far the best way these community partners can afford and make these projects happen,” Moeller said. “The greater importance of it is that people realize in the work they’re doing that it doesn’t have to be a one-day thing, that there are great people and great organizations doing things every day in the community, … that they should get more involved more and form relationships with these groups and people [and] that they should treat South Bend as their community, even [if] they are just here for two or three more years.”

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About Andrew Cameron

Andrew is a senior from Orange County, California. He is an associate news editor at the Observer, and is majoring in Biological Sciences and English. While he has greatly enjoyed his time at Notre Dame, during the winter months he often wonders why he ever left the perennial warmth of Southern California.

Contact Andrew