More than 1,500 Howard University first-year students participate in Day of Service

Through eight service sites, students got their first tastes of the University’s excellence in truth and service

By: Howard University

Around the 9 a.m. hour, hundreds of Howard University students waited for the light on the 7th Street block of the Florida and Georgia Avenue intersection.  

Herds of Bison were traveling to begin the Howard University Day of Service (HUDOS), a decade-long tradition that introduces first-year students to the longstanding, 156-year commitment to truth and service throughout the DC community. HUDOS is a fall event that corresponds with the University’s Alternative Spring Break, where thousands of students travel to service areas across the country.  

“Ultimately these programs reflect the true spirit of the Howard student and the Howard legacy of developing innovators and leaders in community development, social justice, and public service,” says Leelannee Malin, PhD, associate dean of community engagement and strategic partnerships.  

This year, students operated on eight different service sites. University administration and student leaders prepared the students for their day of service with an energizing welcome ceremony. Here, Malin discussed the importance of giving back. Ariel Triplett, the director of emergency management and safety, equipped students with safety protocols as they traveled off-campus grounds.  

“The resounding message was one of collective social responsibility,” Malin says. “We shared with students the importance of pouring into the surrounding community. The work is bigger than our individual goals and intentions and rather the goal of having a positive global impact.” 

Volunteers aided organizations that focus on topics such as health, homelessness, and poverty. Students placed at Southeast DC’s Congress Heights Community Training & Development Corporation helped with green initiatives such as managing mass timber and bee farms. Others helped Anacostia High School faculty by tidying supply rooms and preparing bulletin boards ahead of the 2023-2024 school year.  

At the Salvation Army’s Sherman Avenue location in northwest DC, four students bonded over their project as they installed a paver base outside, raked up dead leaves, and neatened the building. Casey Browne, a freshman from Prince George’s County, explained to Oakland native and classmate Ma’el Blunt about the culture and breakdowns of the DMV tri-state area as they challenged each other who could sweep leaves the fastest before the wind picked up.  

Browne, a third-generation Howardite, says she’s excited to further her family’s Howard legacy while beginning her own. The day of service, she said, is a great way to continue Howard’s tradition of serving DC. 

“I have done a lot of community in the DC area for Martha’s Table and Food & Friends, so it feels good to give back to the community,” Browne says. 

Christy Harris is the Salvation Army’s administrative assistant at the Sherman Avenue site and said working with Howard students is always “a refreshing change.” She shares a special bond with student Jada Lockett Smith who is pursuing sports medicine. 

“She actually came back on her own two years in a row for the summer camp. The first year, she helped them do their tie-dye shirts…and this year, because she’s a Washington Commander cheerleader, she came and taught them a dance routine,” Harris says. “It gives kids today structure and something to look forward to.” 

Some volunteers distributed fliers on behalf of DC’s community organizations such as the DC Tutoring & Mentoring Initiative, a nonprofit soliciting adult volunteers who can serve in different capacities to increase reading levels, coach in youth sports, and tutor students once a week.  

Jileah English, a freshman marketing major, circulated fliers to city residents. The day of service, she says, is helping students learn about the new environment they’ll serve. 

“This is exposing me to new areas,” English, an Atlanta native, said. “I’m actually getting to talk with people who live in DC, so it’s different for me.” 

Maurice Green, a senior studying political science, led English volunteers on 14th Street and thinks the diverse service sites are a great way to bridge the divide between Howard students and members of the DC community.  

“There’s a disconnect between the community and Howard students, especially with recent incidents,” Green says. “Us being involved in the community is a huge part of adjusting that and closing that culture and community gap.”  

Students also participated in relatable service programs such as boxing STI testing kits at the Whitman-Walker Health Center. Freshman business marketing major Christian Townsell said the service experience was a unique opportunity to receive more education on sexual health, a common topic amongst the University community.  

“This place is a safe space for those to get tested and not worry about any judgment,” Townsell says. “You really have to [know] your health and safety to protect yourself and others.”  

Malin stated the importance of getting students on board with Howard’s longstanding commitment to service before classes commence, as the day of service serves as a “snapshot for incoming students to truly experience the meaning of truth and service.” Now, students will be able to witness their day-one promises come to fruition throughout their time at Howard.  

“Having programming of this nature, done at this level, all before students step foot into a classroom demonstrates the importance of putting service of the community at the forefront of the academic experience,” Malin says. “This sets the tone that there is no truth without service. Truth and service is the essence of the Howard experience.”