Students, Alumni and Friends of GSU Give a Saturday Morning Back to Atlanta

“Laying down on a pillow, eyes closed, possibly snoring.” That’s what rising senior Lorenzo Rogers says he’d ordinarily be doing at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. The other students in his group all gave some variation of that answer.

Instead, they were at Oakland Cemetery, clearing brush, pulling up dead plants and planting new ones. They were part of 350 Georgia State students, alumni and supporters who fanned out all over Atlanta to volunteer at community organizations as part of the second annual GSU Cares event.

“We’re incredibly proud that so many members of the Georgia State family were willing to give their time on Saturday,” says Christina Million, associate vice president for alumni affairs, the department that sponsors GSU Cares. “And we hope it demonstrates to Atlanta how motivated our community is to give back and make a difference.”

The organizations that received volunteer help from GSU Cares included everything from parks to healthcare providers to animal shelters. Lorenzo, like many of the other students, says this was his first exposure to Oakland, a historic cemetery just a short walk from Georgia State’s campus. “This is a site I’ve never been to before, so it’s nice knowing I have a hand in restoring it to its former beauty,” he says.

Georgia State’s First Lady, Laura Voisinet, was also among the volunteer landscapers at Oakland. She chose the cemetery project because she was looking forward to being among the biggest group of students — but also because it was an opportunity to be outside.

“We spend so much time in our cubicles and our recirculated air,” she says. “We need to spend more time outside. Nature has a lot to teach us. It’s not all in a classroom.”

Meanwhile, a few miles away, another group of volunteers were also enjoying the beautiful weather — members of Georgia State’s Home Depot alumni chapter, helping out at the Clyde Stephens Nature Preserve in Decatur. In just a few hours, they’d succeeded in clearing huge piles of brush and giving the preserve’s walking trails a fresh layer of mulch.

“Anything I can be part of that Georgia State’s doing, I jump at it,” says Ian Wise, a Home Depot learning administrator. He earned his degree at Georgia State last year after having transferred from Clark Atlanta, and says that the enthusiasm students and alumni showed on Saturday is part of what attracted him to begin with. “Seeing the spirit of the school, it really appealed to me. It had a welcoming culture.”

Imani Mance, an instructional designer who earned her master’s at Georgia State in 2011, brought her son Christopher along to help out. “It’s a good opportunity to get him interested in service and how we can all give back to the community, so he has that exposure early on,” she says.

Many of the organizations participating in Saturday’s event —the Stephens Preserve included — depend almost entirely on volunteers for staffing and regular maintenance, making the event even more significant. Sara Henderson, director of gardens for the Historic Oakland Foundation, indicated as much as she thanked the students, faculty and staff who showed up Saturday morning.

“We couldn’t maintain this cemetery without the volunteer help that we get from Georgia State, from corporate groups, and from the community,” she said. “We couldn’t do any of what we do without you.”