College students set for annual outreach

S.E.R.V.E., a Western Maryland College student community service organization, holds its biggest annual fund-raiser today, a silent and live auction to help pay for home repair projects in Appalachia.

With a bona fide auctioneer, Students Engaged in Rural Volunteer Experiences will sell a host of items, ranging from gift certificates to artwork, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Decker Student Center. Proceeds will help cover the $185-per-student cost of a trip March 17 to Dungannon, Va.


"It's absolutely vital," Jeremiah Kelly, S.E.R.V.E. president, said about the fund-raiser, which drew about 100 people last year.

During spring break, S.E.R.V.E. members travel to the southwestern Virginia town to help repair everything from bathrooms to kitchen floors at the homes of needy families.


S.E.R.V.E. will run the auction alone for the first time in its four-year run. Another WMC community service group, Circle K, previously helped with the fund-raiser and shared the proceeds.

With a longer list of items to auction, Kelly said he hopes to raise more than $2,500. Items donated by campus and community members and businesses include restaurant gift certificates, movie passes, student artwork and a weekend in Solomons Island. Bidders can also pay to have students clean their homes or baby-sit.

Kelly said he hopes to raise several hundred dollars extra so the group can donate tools and supplies to the community.

Proceeds will help cover the costs of supplies, transportation, and room and board at an abandoned sewing factory in Dungannon, a former mining town. Volunteers usually pay $50 to join the trip.

Kelly said 21 members participated last year, and he expects about 30 to help this year.

Students will spend their days helping to build and repair structures in a community where only four full-time jobs exist, said the group's co-vice president, Michelle Sorensen. Most town residents have to travel up to 45 minutes and sometimes over state lines to Tennessee to find work, she said.

Kelly said he likes the work despite the hardships.

"You sleep on wooden planks and you wake at 7:30 every morning and you work like a dog all day," Kelly said.


Last year, students each spent $10 of their money at the end of the week to help finish a linoleum floor.

They also rebuilt a floor in a restaurant that had been closed by health inspectors.

The group refurbished it in the hopes it would reopen and bring more jobs to residents, Sorensen said.

S.E.R.V.E. volunteers will be joined by students from other colleges and universities, and will be trained by skilled workers in specific tasks needed to complete the projects.

"None of us are skilled carpenters," Kelly said.

But he said they make up for it in determination.


On a rainy day last year, they had the option to stay inside or find work.

They went out and dug an abandoned car out of someone's front lawn, he said.

"There were tears when we left because they appreciate the work we do so much," he said.

Sun staff writer Jamie Manfuso contributed to this article.