Despite pandemic, Good Neighbor Day continues to serve
By Emily Williams
On a sunny autumn day in College Park, University of Maryland (UMD) students and city residents volunteered their time during the ninth annual Good Neighbor Day, which was held on Nov. 7. The day of service was hosted by the university, the City of College Park and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, UMD’s director of community engagement, said that the day is an opportunity for UMD students to volunteer and for students and the community to get to know each other better.
“This is something that we have been very excited to continue doing,” she said. “It’s needed.”
Good Neighbor Day is typically held in the spring, but due to the pandemic, this year’s event was moved to November.
Organizers adapted to coronavirus restrictions by following a hybrid model. Volunteers could attend virtual workshops or participate in person on projects. The virtual workshops covered topics such as social justice, mental health and financial literacy.
The in-person projects included a food drive, held at Ikea, to support the College Park Community Food Bank and the university’s Campus Pantry, which works to alleviate food insecurity among students and university staff.
There were also community cleanups, including one at Lake Artemesia, where volunteers planted trees and removed invasive plants.
Organizers recognized that offering both virtual and in-person options might encourage community participation and also meet social needs that have deepened during the pandemic. Jose Cadiz, the lead community engagement coordinator for the university’s Office of Community Engagement, underscored these dual goals.
“We felt like our office really needed to mobilize something in our community,” he said.
In order to follow COVID-19 guidelines, the number of volunteers had to be capped this year. Projects like the cleanup at Lake Artemesia would typically draw as many as 150 volunteers, said Golshan Jalali, media and digital communications director for UMD’s Office of Community Engagement. This year saw 112 volunteers, total, at in-person events. Volunteers participating in virtual events brought the combined total to 373.
While Good Neighbor Day has become an established and important tradition for the city, this year’s event also met challenges brought about by the pandemic.
“People are looking for meaningful things, and perhaps this could be another way for them to feel that they are contributing to the good of the community,” Blackwell said.
Next year will mark the community’s tenth Good Neighbor Day, and hopes are already high that conditions will be far more favorable.
“This relationship between the university and the town continues to grow and continues to get to that level that we all become one,” noted Blackwell.