Last Saturday, the McKeen Center for the Common Good coordinated Bowdoin’s 18th annual Common Good Day. More than 450 members of the Bowdoin community participated in the tradition, working with 54 nonprofit organizations and municipalities throughout the Brunswick area. 

The day started at Farley Field House, where students, faculty, staff and alumni congregated at 11:30 to check in with projects they had selected or been assigned before hearing a short talk from Jamie Silvestri, the founder of ArtVan, a mobile arts therapy organization. Silvestri spoke about mindfulness in community service and the importance of being present and engaged. After lunch and Silvestri’s talk, the groups boarded vans and buses or walked to their projects on foot. Some groups stayed on campus and worked in the community garden, while others drove as far as Augusta, Maine. 

Preparation for the day-long event began in June. Common Good Day Coordinator Sydney Avitia-Jacques ’18 worked in the the McKeen Center over the summer. She chose to become involved because she wanted to get acquainted with the McKeen Center staff and the work they do. 

“I actually hadn’t been involved with the McKeen Center since my orientation trip … but I was interested in learning more about what they did and getting more involved in service work because that’s one of the reasons that I chose [to attend] Bowdoin,” Avitia-Jacques said. 
Avitia-Jacques and the McKeen staff worked to contact and select organizations from a list of over 170 community service groups in midcoast Maine.

“We review it every year to make sure we’re not missing anyone who could be an interesting partner, especially if we’re thinking about doing more work with [for example] Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, an organization that’s new this year and, students are really excited to work with immigrant populations,” said Sarah Seames, director of the McKeen Center. 

Among the organizations that students worked with this year, seven had never worked with Bowdoin before. A few organizations continue to be Common Good Day staples. ArtVan has hosted Common Good Day participants for the past 11 years. 

As the summer drew to a close, the event’s leaders’ began to shift their attention from contacting organizations to recruiting students to lead and participate in the individual excursions. 

Nan Ding ’19 led a group of six students to the Falmouth Land Trust. She became involved as a leader after signing up for Common Good Day with a small group of friends, and said she appreciates the democratic and inclusive nature of the day.

“What I really like about Common Good Day is that everyone…can lead a group, and it’s randomly assigned, so you don’t have to sign up for a particular group,” she said.

Ding’s group worked with a member of the Falmouth Land Trust to build a fire ring and three foot bridges for the organization.

“[The man we worked with] appreciated our work and we appreciated him hosting us. It was a very nice experience,” Ding said. 

Avitia-Jacques said she believes the most important part of the day is its impact on student participants, especially first-year students who are still getting to know the Maine community. 

“For a lot of first years, it sets the tone for service, and having that mindset is important to different people at Bowdoin. For me as a first year, Common Good Day was the only volunteering that I did, so it gave me an entryway to learning about the McKeen Center,” she said. 

Kenneth Lamm ’20 said he plans to do more work with the McKeen Center following his involvement with Common Good Day. 

“It’s nice and very organized. It was a great feeling after you finished,” he said.