Nearly 500 Lees-McRae College students, faculty and staff stepped out of their classrooms and offices on April 29 to participate in the fifth annual Mountain Day of Service. Participants took part in more than 35 service projects throughout the county and across campus.
“Mountain Day of Service is a way for students to give back to our school and the surrounding community. It is really nice to spend the day getting your hands dirty, because then you can look back and see the impact of your work on the community. When I visited Lees-McRae and learned that an entire day each year was dedicated to community service, I knew this was the school for me,” said freshman Katie Alexander.
On-campus projects included planting trees and flowers, building recycling receptacles and a turtle habitat at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute, refurbishing the outdoor basketball court, painting parking space lines and general campus clean-up.
As for off-campus work, projects included painting fire hydrants for the Banner Elk Volunteer Fire Department, highway clean-up for Hickory Nut Gap Road, landscaping and window painting at the Banner Elk School, a clean-up of the Valle Crucis Park, Elk River and Shawneehaw Creek clean-ups, as well as projects with community agencies including ACADA, Habitat for Humanity, RAM’s Rack and Blazing Saddles.
Selena Hilemon, director of community outreach, oversees the organization of Mountain Day of Service and continues to be inspired by the overwhelming support from campus. “Mountain Day of Service is a wonderful way to bring our student’s learning full circle. At Lees-McRae we believe that our students’ education is not complete if left in the classroom. Dr. Bushman has led us to take an even more intentional step in this direction and his leadership and support are invaluable,” Hilemon said.
The tradition of Mountain Day at Lees-McRae goes back to the school’s founder, the Rev. Edgar Tufts. Each fall, Tufts would surprise the school during chapel by announcing, “it was a good day to climb Beech.” Following the proclamation, the entire school would set off up the mountain. When they reached the end of the five-mile climb, a feast of potatoes and corn and sandwiches would be waiting on the group.
Mountain Day was renewed during the early years of the 21st century, more than 100 years after Tufts founded the school. It became a fall and spring tradition, though the hike was limited to Wildcat Lake via the Hemlock Trail. In 2005, President David Bushman began a new tradition making the spring Mountain Day a day of service, and leaving fall Mountain Day a day of rest and fun.
“Mountain Day of Service is a very special way of celebrating community and our stewardship of these ancient mountains, and a way of reminding ourselves that we have an obligation to be in service to each other and to the common good. It represents the transformative power of a Lees-McRae education and is something the whole College takes great pride in. Our students, faculty and staff really do make a difference.”