MACON — Mercer University's LEAP initiative has reached its goal of providing 10,000 volunteer hours in the community. LEAP stands for Local Engagement Against Poverty and is a student-led program that organizes volunteer efforts by students to do projects that help alleviate poverty in Macon. The University marked the accomplishment, as well as several other service milestones, on April 18 with a service celebration, including being named to the federal President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction.
"We are so excited to celebrate some of the incredible work our students have accomplished this school year and to celebrate with some of our partners who made this work possible," said Chelsea Flieger, coordinator of community engagement said before the ceremony. "Mercer prides itself on being an engaged university—committed to the community—a designation we have proved through our placement on the President's Honor Roll. We will celebrate, but then the work continues. There is so much left to do."
The LEAP initiative, launched by Flieger and several fellow Mercer Service Scholars when she was an undergraduate, was sparked by an interest in helping Macon by working to help alleviate poverty. The Service Scholars committed to inspiring their fellow students to complete 10,000 hours of service to the effort at a Clinton Global Initiative University conference in 2010. Since that time, students have organized dozens of Service Saturdays, as well as other smaller projects to reach that goal. Three years later, the group has surpassed it.
"The Mercer community has supported LEAP from its very beginning, and they are the reason we are celebrating today," said Lyndssey Autrey, student director of LEAP. "Without their diligence and willingness to show up to each Service Saturday, this dream would not have been achievable. I am excited to celebrate their commitment to service, and I cannot wait to see what impact the Mercer community will continue to have on Macon in the future."
The event honored community partners, student organizations and the students who contributed to the University's service efforts through volunteer, work-study and service-learning hours. The event also included a celebration of the University's recent recognition on the President's Community Service Honor Roll. Mercer was one of only 113 higher education institutions nationwide named to the President's Honor Roll with Distinction. Mercer and Emory University are the only two institutions in Georgia on the Honor Roll with Distinction.
LEAP was one of the efforts that led to the University being placed on the Honor Roll, along with the chartering of the School of Medicine to train physicians to serve in rural and underserved areas and the Law School's Law and Public Service Program. Among other programs cited were the University's Mercer Service Scholars, which develops servant-leaders through an undergraduate service program; the award-winning international service-learning program Mercer On Mission; and Service First, a post-baccalaureate program that matches recent graduates with service programs worldwide following graduation.
The University's commitment to community engagement is deeply embedded in all aspects and all campuses of the University, including service-learning, volunteering and University-community partnerships. During the 2011-12 academic year, more than half of the University's student body contributed 224,572 hours of community service through service-learning and volunteer activities.