CityServe takes big tent approach to improving Columbia

brantin@thestate.comMay 2, 2013 

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was riding along Saluda Avenue earlier this week, surveying improvements along the road’s edges.

Just days earlier, a group of city employees had joined other volunteers to plant shrubbery and install an irrigation system as part of an aggressive week of service. The effort was one of nearly 200 projects taken on during the inaugural CityServe effort, which wrapped up this past weekend and organizers are lauding as a model for the years ahead.

“We planted trees, we served Meals on Wheels, we repaired some homes, we cleaned up some parks,” Benjamin said of the week that was coordinated by the mayor’s office and drew from several sectors of the community.

The city estimates that about 5,300 volunteers took part in service projects, which ranged from food and book drives to river cleanups and trash pickups during the week of April 20-28. The week included some new projects, while leveraging othereventsalready in place.

“It was a combination of some tried and true nonprofits along with some new ideas,” Benjamin said. “It was exciting to have something for everyone who wanted to help to do something to serve the community.”

Locally based Home Works of America, which repairs homes of elderly and low-income residents, was among the more established groups to join in the CityServe outreach. Executive director Hank Chardos said the partnership was mutually beneficial.

“It further solidified the support that Home Works gets from the city,” Chardos said, adding the exposure helped make more people aware of the existing opportunities to serve.

Benjamin said he was particularly encouraged by the number of young participants, noting that more than 300 University of South Carolina students had worked on projects throughout the city.

“Their students were everywhere,” he said.

This year’s CityServe projects focused on health, hunger, home improvement, beautification and education. Benjamin said in the coming years, the focus areas could be modified or expanded as the area’s needs change.

“I think we will try to cast an even wider net,” Benjamin said. “I think that base can be even broader.”

The mayor said he thinks the project’s goal — of encouraging and promoting more acts of service and volunteerism — was successful.

“This is a wonderful first year,” Benjamin said. “I think it’s going to be a rich tradition. It’s always been clear to me that we have a very passionate community.”

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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