Fayette County

UK students spend day volunteering

More than 130 University of Kentucky students spent a warm Sunday afternoon toiling in area neighborhoods and volunteering at a half-dozen non-profits. The effort was part of an award-winning service project intended to connect students to area neighborhoods.

For Unity and Service in Our Neighborhoods, or FUSION, was started seven years ago as a campus-wide service project. Typically held in August, FUSION is a one-day social-service project designed to help freshmen meet new people and get students engaged in the community.

Last fall, more than 1,300 students participated in the project. This year, after hearing from student leaders that they would like more training, FUSION leaders added FUSION 101 in the spring, said Laura Hatfield, adviser for the Center for Community Outreach at UK.

On Sunday, student leaders learned how to get students to work together, how to watch out for possible hazards and risks to student workers, and how to ensure that everyone is included in the service projects.

Non-profit groups that have long said they would like more help in the spring got the added boost of additional muscle power. Groups of 10 to 40 students went to four adjacent neighborhoods to weed, plant and refurbish for spring.

Students also visited non-profits including the Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge and Ashland Terrace, a non-profit retirement home.

"We have heard for a long time from our non-profits that they would love it if we came back in the spring," Hatfield said.

Kelly Weber, assistant director at Ashland Terrace, was happy to have students back this spring. In the past, FUSION students have cleared debris, trimmed and pulled weeds and washed the home's vehicles.

On Sunday, FUSION hosted an ice cream social for the 35 women who live there.

Weber predicted on Friday that most of the women would come. "Well, first, it's ice cream," Weber said. "And it's UK students, who they love."

Bing Tran, a UK junior from Louisville, has been involved with FUSION since he was a freshman and is now its director.

Tran, 20, said his family fled Vietnam years ago and has benefited from the kindness of others. He wants others to experience the charity that his family received while he was growing up in Australia.

"It's important to get students to give back to the community," Tran said Sunday. UK also wants to be a better neighbor, he said. "We want to build gown-and-town relationships. Every year, it seems like a couch is set on fire. But that's just one thing that sometimes gets blown out of proportion."

Others are taking notice of FUSION. Recently, FUSION and the Center for Community Outreach student board were awarded the volunteer project of the year for a college group by United Way of the Bluegrass.