Florida Gulf Coast University and Wells Fargo volunteers were out in force Saturday making the most of Make a Difference Day.
More than 350 participants pitched in at a dozen Southwest Florida locations where they painted rooms, planted trees, cleaned up litter and packaged food for distribution to the area’s hungry.
It was the fourth year FGCU and Wells Fargo have teamed up to help out nonprofits and other organizations on the annual national day of service.
“Our participation in Make a Difference Day each year is an enthusiastic expression of FGCU’s commitment to service and to inspiring others to give back to their communities,” President Wilson G. Bradshaw said. “Individuals working together magnify the positive impact of volunteering. FGCU students, faculty and staff, together with our partners at Wells Fargo, make a difference each and every day.”
At the Gulf Coast Humane Society, volunteers planted bushes and mulched around them to beautify the exterior of the Fort Myers animal shelter. Then they spent time socializing puppies and kittens. At the Immokalee Child Care Center, volunteers painted and made landscape improvements.
Activities were coordinated by the FGCU Foundation, Alumni Association and Office of Civic Engagement and Service-Learning. Alumni Association chapters in Tampa, Sarasota, Atlanta, Austin and Los Angeles also participated in volunteer projects Saturday.
Quality Life Center – known as “The Q” – received a room makeover and playground sprucing up thanks to FGCU and Wells Fargo volunteers. The center offers a wealth of enrichment programs for children and teens.
Wells Fargo Area President Jeff Ospina heaved mulch into a wheelbarrow along with his colleagues and some FGCU students. The volunteers then toted it over to the playground and spread it around the swings and slide.
“We love working with FGCU and appreciate what FGCU does for us,” Ospina said. “We hire a lot of graduates, and they are excellent employees. They get our culture. It’s a great partnership.”
Brittany Brown, who graduated from FGCU in 2014 with a degree in Child Studies, works as VPK director and after-school science teacher at The Q. She came in to volunteer on her day off, along with her 3-year-old son, Shamire Hammond. “I love FGCU,” she said. “It’s so diverse. There are people from so many walks of life. I wanted to come in and bring my son to see the students volunteer. It sends a good message.”
Tony Guarino IV, a freshman from Naples, along with other members of the Leadership Through Service Living-Learning Community in the university’s residence halls, works with The Q throughout the year, tutoring and helping out with the center’s programs.
On Saturday, he helped paint a room. Like so many of those who turned out, he was driven by a desire to help others. “It’s a great way to give back to the community,” Guarino said.
Ramon Torres, an FGCU senior majoring in Environmental Engineering, was so eager to participate in Make a Difference Day for the fourth time that he started asking the Office of Civic Engagement and Service-Learning about it in August. He helped pick up trash while paddling around Fish Trap Bay by FGCU’s Vester Marine and Environmental Science Research Field Station in Bonita Springs.
“Volunteering is a good way to get connected to people,” he said.
Tatiana Rodriguez, an FGCU senior majoring in Marketing, also has participated in all four years that FGCU has celebrated Make a Difference Day, volunteering at a different location each time and encouraging other students to get involved. She hopes to continue next year as an alumna.
“Every year, I try to explore a new place – it’s a great event to build awareness of all the organizations that serve the community and to promote the importance of volunteering,” she said. “It’s becoming a tradition for FGCU. As President Bradshaw always says, ‘Service is part of FGCU’s DNA.’ I truly believe that.”
Rodriguez was part of a team planting and mulching trees and planting a butterfly garden at New Horizons of Southwest Florida in Bonita Springs, which helps at-risk children and teens by providing after-school tutoring and mentoring. Dort Bear, Administrative Support/Volunteer Coordinator, said the organization doesn’t have the staff or resources to do what the Make a Difference Day volunteers did Saturday.
“We were thrilled that they wanted to come out,” she said. “It’s a good learning experience for them and us. We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers.”
- See more pictures from FGCU Make a Difference Day