Members of the 2017 UC Serves volunteer team get ready for another exciting and rewarding day of University of Cincinnati community outreach.


Mud, sweat and cheers 


Hundreds of UC faculty and staff spend a fun-filled day off campus lending a hand to build structures, gardens and new relationships in local communities at the fourth annual ‘UC Serves’ community outreach event.



By Melanie Schefft

Photos: provided

May 23, 2017

As bursting water balloons cooled off beaming preschoolers, it was hard to tell who was having more fun –– little school kids or UC Serves volunteers.

After another fun-filled day of community service around the University of Cincinnati campuses, faculty and staff volunteers went home with a little more sweat on their brow and a lot more happy memories.

As part of the fourth annual UC Serves initiative hosted by the UC Emerging Leaders in Student Affairs (ELSA) and the Center for Community Engagement, UC volunteers spent more than 2,800 hours on Friday, May 19, in collective service off campus giving back to their community at over 45 local not-for-profit projects across the Tristate area.

“UC Serves began four years ago as a university-wide alternative workday for almost 100 faculty and staff to collectively participate in community service projects, but has now grown in popularity to include more than 400 participants this year,” says William Neater, educational coordinator in UC’s Learning Assistance Center and co-chair of ELSA's service committee, the committee for UC Serves.

“Each year our volunteers go out into the neighborhood participating in a variety of tasks and act as positive role models for students and meet new fellow Bearcats from across the university –– all while giving back to the communities where they live and work.”


Two children squeeze a water balloon all over their faces at a UC Serves field day.
Men and women in red T-shirts stand inside the Concord Community Garden.


The red shirts are coming!

Donned in UC Serves red T-shirts, more than 400 volunteers from colleges and departments all over UC Uptown, Clermont and Blue Ash campuses set out to enjoy the day out of the office to display their brawn and share their talents.

In spite of the threat of rain, teams of volunteers weeded and restored several community gardens and planted native trees and shrubs in local nature parks such as the Laughing Brook Constructed Wetland, part of Cincinnati’s Mill Creek restoration project.

“It’s nice to get out of the office and learn about the different types of gardening,” says Marianne Kunnen-Jones, assistant to the UC president, who worked in the Concord Community Garden.

“Working in an organic garden is a nice change from my normal routine, but this heat also quickly makes me appreciate my office job,” says Trisha Smith, deputy chief of staff to the president, also on the Concord Garden team.

A number of UC Servers stayed indoors to make phone calls for the American Cancer Society, pack boxes of books in preparation for a sale at the Cincinnati Public Library, sort and pack household items to be sent all over the world for humanitarian and disaster relief and helped serve meals for the hungry at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Over-the-Rhine.

And, in no time, several of those red shirts were covered by painting suits to renovate or paint wall murals at local community centers and at the Cincinnati Salvation Army.


Residents of Maple Knoll Retirement Community play drums and insruments on UC Serves Day.
UC Serves volunteer plays a drum made from a wooden frame covered in packaging tape for the residents at Maple Knoll Retirement Community.


The arts come alive

For the volunteers who are musically and artistically gifted (or those who remain somewhat challenged) creating musical instruments from ordinary items brought smiles to vulnerable individuals served by the Cincinnati Music and Wellness Coalition. The event was held at Maple Knoll Retirement Community, a member of the coalition.  

CCM program manager Amy Dennison and her crew helped Maple Knoll residents, developmentally disabled and older refugees create a robust crescendo from drums they made from wooden frames wrapped in clear packaging tape.

Other favorites adding to the happy percussive orchestra were the shakers, rattles and rainsticks made from spoons, plastic Easter eggs and hollow wrapping paper rolls filled with beads.

Alina Nosal, who works in Student Affairs, led her group of volunteers to work with an elder population at Brookdale Senior Living Community completing art therapy projects and making rewarding new friendships.


Two UC Serves volunteers wear hair nets as they work at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen.
A women digs in a raised garden bed in the Concord Communtiy Garden..
A woman trims tree limbs during a UC Serves event.
Corryville Catholic students stand in front of UC Serves judges during their vocabulary parade.
Children from Corryville Catholic School stand in a vocabulary parade during UC Serves Day.
Three UC Serves volunteers stand with paint rollers and brushes.

UC Serves volunteers helped out at more than 45 not-for-profit organizations around town.


UC ‘reigns’ at a parade

Brandi Elliott, director of UC Student Life-Ethnic Programs and Services, led the team of judges this year at the Corryville Catholic School’s second vocabulary parade, named for the children’s book, “Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster,” about a young girl who mistakes the word miscellaneous for the name of a person.

“We love when UC volunteers come to work with our kids each year,” says Linda Westendorf, principal of the school. “We pick this day to have our annual vocabulary parade because it is UC Serves day, and UC people are wonderful judges who use their unbiased knowledge to critique the children's posters, handmade outfits and their skills speaking on a microphone. It really makes the kids feel special.”

Debra Frasier, the author of the book, was on hand to praise UC’s volunteers for their willingness to participate and for their encouragement as the children delivered their work in front of a crowd.


Debra Frasier, book author stands with Corryville Catholic Shool students during their vocabulary parade.

Children's book author, Debra Frasier, appreciates the UC Serves volunteers who judge the vocabulary parade inspired by her book.


Dressed to drill

For the tool-savvy red shirts, building raised garden beds, creating mosaic tiles for the Cincinnati steps to Fairview Park or using impressive carpentry skills at a local Habitat for Humanity was the “job du jour.”

“I’ve participated in UC Serves projects for the past four years and continually meet all new people on each project,” says Kerry Overstake, assistant director of UC Web Communications and carpenter-for-a-day at Habitat for Humanity. “I love the efforts UC goes through to make a difference in our local community. I usually leave exhausted but always full of pride.”

“We like to say 'we’re one with UC,' but I like to say we’re one with Cincinnati,” says Dy’Mand Montgomery, program coordinator for UC Student Affairs-Parent and Family Association. “It’s a much greater benefit when we engage with the community, and I think that’s what UC Serves is all about.”

UC Serves reflects the university’s commitment to enhancing our community through service, aligning with UC’s Third Century Initiative and Just Community Principles.

UC Serves is organized by UC's Emerging Leaders in Student Affairs. For more information about participating in the 2018 UC Serves event, contact William Neater at 513-556-1786,; Fran Larkin at 513-556-1503,; or go to UC Serves.


A woman and two school boys sit at a table and build volcanoes together out of paper and glue.
Members of UC Serves wear hard hats as they prepare to build a Habitat for Humanity in Northern Kentucky.
Preschoolers and UC Serves volunteers fluff a giant rainbow parachute.
Refugees in the Maple Knoll nursing home play drums during UC Serves Day.
Members of UC Serves gather together touching hands before going off to help out in the community.
Children from the Rising Star Academy pass water balloons to each other.
A woman descends the Fairview Park stairs that were decorated by mosaics created by UC Serves volunteers.
Young preschool girl looks up from playing on a corn toss game.
UC Serves volunteer Kerry Overstake wears a hard hat and safety glasses beneath a chandelier while helping out at Habitat for Humanity.
UC Serves volunteers and students from Corryville Catholic School gather together after their vocabulary parade.
Six members of UC Serves' outreach team stand at a clean-up project site..


Storify by ELSA of UC

Check out the fourth annual #UCServes highlights!