Organizers of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Project MOVE have long echoed the sentiments shared by volunteers that participation in UTEP’s annual day of community service can be a life-changing experience. Junior business major Lizbeth Vargas agreed with that assessment.
Vargas said she and members of her Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority plan to be among the approximately 1,200 volunteers who will help at about 60 job sites Saturday, April 13, 2019, throughout the El Paso region during the 10th annual Project MOVE (Miner Opportunities for Volunteer Experiences).
This year’s volunteers, a combination of University students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends, will sort, paint, clean, landscape, refurbish and do numerous other jobs requested by nonprofit community partners.
Vargas is not sure what her 2019 assignment will be, but she is excited to be part of something that brings so many Miners together for a good cause. She said participation shows how students can make an impact on the community, and how service can foster leadership.
She said her participation in last year’s event elevated her social consciousness. She and about 25 members of UTEP’s Society for Human Resources Management chapter helped enhance a USO facility at Fort Bliss. The volunteers swept, mopped, moved furniture, cleaned ceilings, painted walls and other things that USO personnel, usually military veterans, could not do because of time or physical limitations.
“It made me feel good,” said Vargas, during a recent break from her sorority’s breast cancer awareness fundraising table at Leech Grove. “It inspired me to do more.”
Because of her MOVE participation, she became her sorority’s community service chair, joined a campus service fraternity that adopted a three-mile stretch of Montana Avenue in far East El Paso, and is more active in searching for volunteer opportunities on UTEP’s CUE (Community-University-Engagement) website.
“Nonprofits need us,” Vargas said.
Groups of volunteers that range from a handful to about 150 per site, depending on the project, will start their day at a brief rally at 9 a.m. at UTEP’s Kidd Field. Paydirt Pete and the UTEP cheerleaders plan to attend. Organizers invited University President Diana Natalicio to say a few words. Participants will then spread out across the community and work from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Since 2010, to include projected 2019 numbers, Project MOVE will have registered approximately 12,000 volunteers, logged about 48,000 hours at around 450 projects requested by roughly 160 community partners.
Jennifer Lujan, MOVE co-lead organizer and assistant director of UTEP’s Center for Civic Engagement, said nonprofits often save some of their bigger annual “spring cleaning” activities for Project MOVE. She called volunteerism a good experience for UTEP students, especially those who have grown up in El Paso but who are unfamiliar with areas outside their neighborhoods.
“Project MOVE provides a quick introduction to the community’s issues and the agencies that try to provide the necessary services,” Lujan said. “We see it as a stepping stone to more community engagement.”
Through the years, Miner volunteers have landscaped gardens, painted skate parks, fixed bicycles, organized food pantries, cleaned offices and arroyos, repaired homes and playground equipment, and built bed frames and websites. They also have made blankets for children and homes accessible for people with disabilities, spruced up a cemetery, repaired nature trails, taught golf and soccer, visited hospital patients, translated for medical students and collected canned and nonperishable food for the needy. The University estimated the value of the work at approximately $1.2 million.
Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs, came up with the Project MOVE concept as part of his dissertation. He researched the benefits of campus involvement, especially among Mexican-American students. The UTEP official, who was dean of students at the time of the first Project MOVE, said he saw value in the University starting a large-scale community service project.
Ofelia Dominguez, co-lead MOVE organizer and director of Union Services, said the University has been a good neighbor throughout its 105-year history. Project MOVE is a continuation of that service.
“Like any good neighbor, we are ready and willing to do our part to help,” said Dominguez, who added that she has heard from many participants that this annual effort has been an impactful moment in their education.
Among the many community partners through the years, a handful have participated annually to include Rebuilding Together El Paso. This year the nonprofit has asked for 300 Miner volunteers to help revitalize 15 homes owned by people with limited incomes who are elderly and/or disabled throughout the borderland. The projects often consist of cleaning, landscaping and painting.
Caroline Blakely, national president and CEO of Rebuilding Together, will be in El Paso during the event, as April is National Rebuilding Month. She said she planned to meet with local Rebuilding Together officials, Project MOVE organizers and project volunteers at their job sites to recognize their great work and continued support of Rebuilding Together’s mission. She said her organization’s local chapters throughout the United States are creating similar collaborations with nearby academic institutions.
“Rebuilding Together El Paso’s relationship with UTEP and its Project MOVE is special to us because of its longevity and their sustained commitment to the partnership and community,” Blakely said. “Through our partnership, we are truly impacting the lives of our neighbors in need.”
Blakely, who worked with children as a hospital volunteer in the 1970s while a student at the University of Virginia, said when young adults participate in efforts such as Project MOVE, especially in the area of home revitalization, they often gain an appreciation, and in many cases a passion to continue to help those in need.
“It gives them a deeper look at their community and how they can help their own neighbors,” Blakely said.
Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications