The Value of Service

Student smiles while shoveling dirt.

“In Truth and Service”—or Veritas et Utilitas—is a motto that the Howard community constantly strives to live up to and exemplify. The annual Howard University Day of Service (HUDOS) hosted by the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel is an example of that effort put into action.

“When Howard shows up, it’s significant,” said Glen D. Vinson Jr., former associate dean for Religious and Civic Engagement at the chapel. “It means that we’re aware of the issues and the things that are going on and we’re willing to get our hands dirty to do something about it. I think that’s one of the biggest things that is amazing about Howard students: They are willing to get their hands dirty to ensure that we have a better and greater community for everyone.”

Howard University Day of Service focuses on six learning initiatives: educational disparities, environmental injustices, health disparities, homelessness, poverty and violence. The program partners with organizations in D.C. to work on these initiatives and carry out strategic priority No. 3 of Howard Forward 2024, which states: “We will serve our diverse community with high-impact outreach and collaborative partnerships across divisions and beyond campus borders, while cultivating an atmosphere of inclusivity, wellness and civility.”

Students Make a Push to Give

HUDOS began in 2013 when a group of students expressed their concerns about student involvement in the community.

“Myself, along with the dean of the chapel, Rev. Bernard Richardson, sat at a table with a group of concerned students, which is what we love about Howard,” Vinson said. “[They] were concerned about new students and how they’d embrace the University’s motto. We started to brainstorm and held what the chapel calls ‘learning labs.’ In these labs, we’d invite students to come and help find solutions to real-life problems. Out of this came the idea for a day of service for incoming students. I was then challenged to develop a program with the student committee, and from that, the Howard University Day of Service was born.”

A Helping Hand

Howard students prepare fresh fruit and vegetables during Homecoming Day of Service project.One of the organizations HUDOS works with is Hustlaz 2 Harvesters, a community organization led by citizens who were formerly incarcerated. Their organization created a green space in an area that normally has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. These returning citizens are committed to affecting change in their communities through urban farming and nutrition and building trade and employment initiatives. They have been active for about five years and have partnered with HUDOS for the last four years.

One of the co-founders is Muhsin “Uncle Boe” Umar and he works with the Howard community not only for HUDOS but throughout the year. He sees the partnership as an opportunity to bring together different people and show what the community is supposed to be.

“It has a great impact on Hustlaz 2 Harvesters because it gets the youth connected with seniors and returning citizens,” Umar said. “It sheds light on how youth and returning citizens work together. It also shows peace and unity in the community.”

Another yearly partnership is with the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School, which has worked with HUDOS since 2014.

“Our staff looks forward to working and partnering with Howard students every year,” said Bobby Caballero, campus director. “At the beginning of every school year before our students arrive, Howard students help prep the school for their arrival. They paint, label folders, put up bulletin boards, clean classrooms and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work that takes place to get the school ready for a new year.”

Aside from providing cosmetic changes, Caballero has also been impressed by the care and initiative that he’s seen the Howard students show toward the students and the school.

One very fond memory that Caballero has is of the freshman who was determined to find a home for the books that were discarded in the school’s recycling bin. “This is wrong; I came from a school that didn’t have books,” Caballero remembers the student saying. “I asked her to turn her grief into action. I told her that if she found a local organization that could use the books we would take them there. Within two hours, she found a community-based, after-school program that wanted the books. We delivered them the same day. She is the perfect example of what a student leader looks like.”

Vinson has seen how the day is invaluable for service locations. “We have principals and school administrators tell us that they couldn’t have done it without Howard,” he said. “The support that our students give those teachers to prepare for the school year is immeasurable.”

For Tubman Elementary School, the yearly help that Day of Service provides is exactly that.

“Students come and give so much effort to make sure our school is ready,” said principal Amanda Delabar. “They move furniture, paint walls and murals, help in our garden, set up classrooms and bulletin boards, put furniture together—really anything and everything we ask of them and it makes a world of difference.”

Tubman Elementary has partnered with HUDOS for at least seven years. For Delabar, what sticks in her mind the most, is seeing the hard work that everyone puts in to make the community stronger and better. She hopes to continue the partnership in the future “because this support makes such a positive impact for our students, families and teachers. Our school looks better, is more organized and is welcoming because of the work of Howard students.”

Heartfelt Service

Student working on a wall display in a school.

Howard students are equally grateful to have an opportunity to serve and help in whatever way they can.

“Putting my heart and soul into something I really care about is important to me,” said Clara Ekezie, a senior biology major from Dallas. Ekezie has participated in HUDOS since her freshman year and served as the director of operations this past Day of Service. “HUDOS has taught me a lot about myself and the things I love. I enjoy serving people and HUDOS allows me to continue to do that.”

Ekezie describes the day as hectic, but said, “The experience has been great. The schools that I’ve worked in have been very appreciative and grateful for our help. There’s a lot that goes into getting prepared for the first day and teachers don’t have a lot of time to get things done.”

Vinson echoed this appreciation that both the students and service locations feel about the program: “I think they love it,” he said. “It shows empathy and that we care. It shows that we’re not the big institution on the hill, but that we are concerned about the community for which we live in or reside in for four to five years.”

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