Saturday mornings in college are traditionally reserved for
sleeping late but this Saturday, 180 students rolled out of bed
bright and early to volunteer their time to communities across
southeast Michigan.

Mira Levitan
LSA sophomore Neal Uppal, left, and Eddie Gwost, 78, right, play bingo at the Veterans Association Medical Center for the National Gandhi Day of Service on Saturday. The event positioned students at community service events across the area. (TOMMASO GOMEZ

The National Gandhi Day of Service, is a one-day community event
aimed at honoring Indian humanitarian Mohandas Gandhi’s life
and message through a day of community service.

Volunteers participated in activities at 20 sites including
homeless shelters, the Detroit Boys and Girls Club and the Humane
Society in Detroit, as well as others across the metro area.

Gandhi Day was celebrated on campuses across the nation. The
first Gandhi Day of Service occurred on Oct. 4, 1998 at the
University. It was then expanded in 1999 to 20 universities and
2,000 students nationwide, and by last year grew to 200
universities and organizations and more than 7,000 volunteers.

IASA Community Service co-chairs Heeral Sheth and Ryan Hamburger
said Gandhi Day is meant to introduce students to the philosophy of
community service.

Sheth, an Engineering sophomore, added that Gandhi is a good
role model for students because he “was a service-oriented,
nonviolence-based leader.”

“Our goal is basically to bring together the entire campus
for a day of service and to have fun,” said Hamburger, an LSA
sophomore.

LSA freshman Laura Elenbaas said she chose homelessness as
hercause for the day. “I’ve never worked with homeless
people. It seemedlike an area that would take me out of my comfort
zone and open my eyes,” she said.

A video montage of Gandhi, along with a speech by history prof.
Nita Kumar, served to provide inspiration to the early-morning
volunteers.

She said while Gandhi was deeply moved by the suffering of
others and worked to help them, he always loved and respected
himself.

Gandhi “respected himself so much — he took every
mistake very seriously andthen he could move on and say,
‘I’ve learned from it’,” Kumar said.

Volunteers used Gandhi Day as a way to give back to their
community and broadentheir perspectives on service.

“We’re all blessed and fortunate to attend the
University of Michigan, and we want to help others,” said
IASA President Neal Pancholi, a Business School junior.

He added that Gandhi Day allows students to learn about the many
different community service opportunities in the area.

A statement by Kumar during her speech resonated with volunteers
as they completed a day of service.

“Think of it radically, as something creative. You can
step backfrom a scene and say, ‘What connections can I make
here? What can I do?’” she said.

Nursing senior Seema Ghelani, a site leader at the Nichols
Arboretum, chose her site based on her personal attachment to it.
She helped maintain the Arb’s historic peony flower
garden.

“Ever since I’ve been here, it has been a wonderful
place to go running, sit by the river — it’s an
important place for people who want to stay close to nature,”
she said.

Students said they walked away from their volunteer experiences
with various lessons and new skills. LSA freshman Juhi Aggarwal
worked on a Detroit presentation by the Alliance to End Violence in
Asian American Communities, a group based in the School of Social
Work.

“I feel more empathy for people who feel that they cannot
voice their oppression,” she said.

But LSA sophomore Neal Uppal summed up the prevailing sentiment
of day. “I feel it’s important to give back to the
community and doing it in Gandhi’s name makes it more
meaningful because it’s a celebration of his principles and
ideals.”

The events were sponsored by the Indian American Student
Association and SPARK, an organization that sponsors such one-day
community service events.

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