Rebuild and give back

More than 300 students volunteer to serve during Caring for Columbia.

Mizzou student volunteers spread mulch in front of the ACT building on April 9 to make the site more inviting.

Mizzou students spread mulch in front of the Alternative Community Training (ACT) building on April 9. ACT was one of seven locations where students volunteered during this year's Caring for Columbia, the largest student-led day of service in the state.

April 13, 2022
Contact: Uriah Orland, 573-882-6212,

University of Missouri students were out in force last weekend volunteering across the community for the first Caring for Columbia event since 2019.

Matt Hemmersmeier, a junior accounting student from Defiance, Missouri, has been involved with the annual student-led day of volunteering since his freshman year when he was a member of the steering committee. But three weeks before the event in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced leaders to cancel the day of service.

“Just like everything else in our world, COVID kind of turned Caring for Columbia upside down,” Hemmersmeier said.

Mizzou students volunteering at Candlelight Lodge were among more than 300 students who participated in this year's Caring for Columbia.

Mizzou students volunteering at Candlelight Lodge in Columbia.

Caring For Columbia, known as the largest student-led day of service in the state, sends student volunteers across the city to serve at various sites in the community. This year, more than 300 students volunteered at seven locations, including Welcome Home, Inc., Candlelight Lodge and Finger Lakes State Park. The program was able to continue last year, but with fewer volunteers and less of the usual fanfare.  But on April 9, with Hemmersmeier leading the charge as the executive director, student volunteers gathered at Traditions Plaza on the MU campus for breakfast and comradery before traveling by bus to their various service locations.

“A lot of our community partners haven't been able to focus time and energy on projects because they've been focusing on the health and safety of the populations they serve,” Hemmersmeier said. “So, for many of these local partners, Caring for Columbia is a big day.”

Such was the case for Alternative Community Training, or ACT, an organization that provides services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Student volunteers did some landscaping outside of the ACT’s main office and painted cabinetry and shelving for a room in the youth services program.

“It was really nice to be able to welcome people on site to actually volunteer and to get to see the magic made firsthand,” said Mary Arnold, the communications specialist at ACT. “Our maintenance supervisor was just overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of these volunteers and how professional they were.”

The volunteers created a forestry theme in the youth services room, sprucing up some cabinets with blooming trees and garden bugs. Arnold said decorating the space will help ACT be even more inclusive and welcoming, especially because of how much the youth program participants enjoy expressing themselves through art.

“We’re really hopeful to continue this relationship with Caring for Columbia going forward and to look for more volunteer opportunities, because we still have things that probably need a little TLC,” Arnold said. “But one thing at a time.”

Hemmersmeier is dedicated to the future of Caring for Columbia and is working to reestablish the program’s identity, so new students will be inspired to carry on the annual tradition of service.

“It’s a big way for us to give back to these organizations by completing these minor projects,” Hemmersmeier said. “The projects might not seem big in the grand scheme of things, but they’re instrumental in helping our local partners focus on continuing their missions.”

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