The University’s motto, “Freely You Received, Freely Give”, was on full display on September 10 for the 34e Step Forward Day, Pepperdine’s beloved tradition that unites students, faculty, staff and alumni for a fun and fulfilling day of service. Organized by the Office of Community Engagement and Service in the Hub for Spiritual Life, this year 640 participants partnered with more than 20 local nonprofit and public organizations in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, inspiring the Pepperdine community to understand and learn from their neighbors and to serve in the places they call home.
“Our goal is to provide members of the Pepperdine community with simple ways to cultivate a lifestyle of service,” says Christin Shatzer Román (’03), director of community engagement and service. “Even though this is a one-day event, it is an introduction to community sites where individuals can return and serve again in the future.”
Plans for Step Forward Day 2022 began on September 12, 2021, the day after that year’s event. Olivia Robinson (’20), assistant director of community engagement and service, says compiling event data immediately and scoring areas for improvement helps inform planning decisions later in the year. The team’s planning work was not wasted – volunteer turnout on September 10 was exceptionally strong, with a number of different groups, such as Pepperdine Athletics, student clubs and seminary classmates freshman, joining in the effort.
On campus, junior Maddie Beadle, a political science major, led the Food Oasis project, a Los Angeles-based app that helps eliminate food waste by connecting donors and food outlets. A person with a physical disability, Beadle knew that a project on campus would be accessible to him. “Our project involved having a computer, a phone, and a voice, and I knew I could direct that and direct well,” she says. Other volunteers on campus included the women’s swim and dive team, who volunteered to help provide young women with hygiene products for Girls’ Days.
Charlie Markham, a senior communication studies specialist, led the PATH Welcome Home project which traveled to various on-site locations to help set up apartments for homeless people in Southern California. Markham chose to work with this group because their goals matched their concerns. “I love seeing real solutions to homelessness in Los Angeles that provide safety and support, rather than just moving homeless people out of sight,” he says.
For the first time this year, Pepperdine partnered with Frederick Christian Schools KC Price III, the K-12 school located on the site of Pepperdine’s original campus in Los Angeles, where student volunteers assisted teachers at the school to create classroom spaces conducive to student learning and engagement. in other beautification activities. Other partner organizations also enjoyed their first Step Forward day, including 5Journeys, a nonprofit regenerative and organic farm in Topanga Canyon, and Project 43, an organization founded and dedicated by a close mentor to the late musician Nipsey Hussle that offers services that improve the quality of life for residents of the Crenshaw area and adjacent communities.
At 5Journeys, alumnus, adjunct professor, and resident of the Malibu campus, Nate Barton (’16, MPP ’18) felt a connection to farm work before he arrived because of his background in sustainability. “We’ve done everything from planting trees to recording local wildlife to moving compost to prepare the land for farming,” he says. “I enjoyed learning from the experts on site and having the opportunity to make meaningful contributions.”
Project 43, a nonprofit created amid the pandemic, sponsored toy drives, networking events, free cultural outings, free COVID-19 testing and a farm stand to provide access to food healthy. Robinson notes that he also offers classes for community members to live healthier lives, such as how to plant and maintain a garden, and to help further their careers, such as how to code and use audio equipment. She says Step Forward Day volunteers have helped the organization create a tidy library, organizing the 2,000 books recently donated to it, and Project 43 students and staff have developed a warm relationship. “They had moments of relationship building; it wasn’t just a transactional day,” she says.
Robinson emphasized that his team’s service approach is strongly focused on service to others, which involves listening to them and learning from them. “We’re very intentional about trying to develop an understanding of service as relational and transformational and learning that we don’t have all the answers,” she says. “We lead with questions because we know we can contribute to a solution, but we are not a solution.” She encourages students to come with an open and curious mind and a willingness to learn. “We know the students coming out of this university will be decision makers, and we want them to see what service can be in its best shape and learn how to apply that in other areas of life.”