Located just 23 miles from the center of Orlando lies the small town of Bithlo, described by some as a “forgotten community.” Despite its central location, the town has numerous problems that affect the population’s education, safety, and health.
On August 29, Adventist University of Health Sciences pooled resources and partnered with United Global Outreach, the organization heading the Bithlo transformation effort, to assist a community that has been overlooked for too long.
The University’s faculty and staff, a team of about 220, rolled up their sleeves and served Bithlo in four main areas: they refurbished a food pantry; facilitated classes at Orange County Academy; assisted with programs at Head Start, an organization for vulnerable children aged 2 to 5; and landscaped a charity processing building.
Daphne Nelson, one of the coordinators of the local food pantry, says the help came at just the right time.
“We have inspection coming up and we were wondering how we would get the building up to speed,” Nelson says. “It is a God-send that you were able to do this.”
The benefits of the service day stretched beyond those in Bithlo, says Tia Hughes, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and service day coordinator. It was also a hands-on opportunity to implement the beliefs the University is built on.
“The mission of our University is to educate others to serve in the healing ministry of Christ,” Hughes says. “Service days like the one in Bithlo allow our team, in some small way, to model that to our students.”
Ruby Gutierrez, director of community engagement, says the end goal of the transformation effort is to see Bithlo become a self-sufficient and healthy community and this service day was just the beginning of a long relationship with the community.
During this school year about 200 students will teach health and nutrition classes, other students will travel twice weekly to tutor students, and in celebration of the University’s 20th anniversary, students, faculty, and staff will participate in 20 service projects in Bithlo.
“I can’t think of any better example for our students as to what service learning is about,” Gutierrez says. “To really get involved and become aware of the issues people in their own backyard are facing, realizing they can be part of the solution.”
-by Sarah Crowder