Hundreds of new students spent part of this week getting a taste of what it means to be a Volunteer by serving communities through the Ignite Serves program.

First-year students partnered with a slate of Knoxville organizations to help fulfill needs in the community. They loaded backpacks with school supplies and inspirational notes to be distributed to children by the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley. They made blankets and wrote thank-you notes to be given to veterans and active military personnel by the Soldiers’ Angels organization.

Ignite Serves gives new students a chance to learn leadership skills and develop friendships while helping Knoxville organizations serve the area’s at-risk populations. Started in 2001, Ignite programs welcome nearly 900 incoming freshmen each year to participate in Ignite Serves and three other programs: Ignite Knox, Ignite Leadership Summit, and Ignite Outdoors. These projects allow incoming students to jump-start their time at UT by learning more about the university and experiencing what it means to be a Volunteer, while also giving other students an opportunity to learn leadership and organizational management skills.

“I would not be the person I am today without Ignite. It gave me an opportunity to grow as a person while feeling like a valued member of the UT community,” said Jessie Powell, a senior majoring in therapeutic recreation and an Ignite team leader. “I will forever be indebted to Ignite for seeing me as a leader before I could see it myself, for giving me a community of support, and for teaching me what it truly means to be a Volunteer.”

During Ignite Serves, students participated in a Farm to Senior project, prepping produce from Beardsley Community Farm for dishes that were distributed to seniors through the Knoxville-Knox County Committee on Aging Mobile Meals program. The group also worked on the grounds of the farm and delivered meals. At the Odd Fellows Cemetery, students joined the Knoxville ReAnimation Coalition to maintain walkways throughout the grounds of the East Knoxville cemetery, the final resting place of about 6,000 African American Knoxville residents from around the turn of the 20th century.

Other local nonprofit organizations that hosted student volunteers include Ladies of Charity, Haven House, Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, the Cerebral Palsy Center, Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, Random Acts of Flowers, Beaumont Community School, and UT’s Smokey’s Closet.

The programs are organized by the Jones Center for Leadership and Service, the campus hub for educating and engaging students to lead and serve the global community. As of February 2019, students have tracked over 685,000 hours of service, with an estimated impact of nearly $17 million in services.

“We want all students to feel like they matter and belong at the university, and Ignite is a great opportunity for incoming students to be introduced to the Volunteer family,” said Mandie Beeler, director of the Jones Center. “Ignite Serves engages incoming students in fun and exciting activities that encourage them to get outside of their comfort zones and learn new things about themselves, their peers, and their communities.”

New this year as part of the campus’s 225th celebration, the Jones Center will be implementing a three-tiered medallion recognition process, and students who have completed 225 or more hours will earn a gold service medallion, Beeler said.