Viva Volunteers Show Commitment to Communities on Day of Service

UT Dallas students helped install a nature garden in South Dallas for their Viva Volunteer service project.

Sahar Sarafrazi, a healthcare studies junior and transfer student from Collin College, had not done much yardwork before she signed up to help install a nature garden as part of the 2019 Viva Volunteer day of service. 

When the bus from UT Dallas stopped at a dirt lot near Fair Park in South Dallas, Sarafrazi thought she had been dropped off at the wrong place. But after digging in for several hours, she and other students filled the empty space with 50 plants and five trees for the Texas Discovery Gardens. 

“It felt good to take out our frustrations and stress from midterms by kicking loose the tree root balls,” Sarafrazi said. “It was nice to see the beginning of a garden when we were through. I think it’d be fun to one day bring my kids to see the tree I planted.”

Sarafrazi was among the more than 460 UT Dallas students who came together on a single day to perform service projects across the community. Organized by the Office of Student Volunteerism (OSV), Viva Volunteer participants from 28 student organizations and scholarship groups invested in a day of service at 26 community sites. The project coincided with the national Make a Difference Day on Oct. 26.

The volunteers’ tasks included stocking the food pantry and sorting produce at CitySquare, washing kennels and playing with cats at Plano Animal Services, and packing more than 30,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children. 

“Everyone has a role to play in building strong communities. Events like Viva Volunteer enable UT Dallas students to perform acts of community service and bond together with their neighbors in a common cause.”

Mackenzie Hunter, director of the Office of Student Volunteerism at UT Dallas

The volunteers’ combined 2,310 hours of donated labor saved nonprofit organizations more than $58,000.

“Everyone has a role to play in building strong communities. Events like Viva Volunteer enable UT Dallas students to perform acts of community service and bond together with their neighbors in a common cause,” said Mackenzie Hunter, OSV director.

Community partners praised the students for their help. At the Texas Discovery Gardens site, Lori Lee with South Dallas Fair Park Innercity Community Development Corp. said the residents in the neighborhood will enjoy having a place to get to know one another and relax.

“Such amenities are not always possible for lower-income neighborhoods, and we thank the UT Dallas students for helping to make it happen. This is a nice community of people, and they deserve this place. It’s looking good so far, and it’s going to be beautiful,” Lee said. 

Neuroscience junior and OSV student leader Nishika Jaiswal participated in Viva Volunteer for the second time. This year she helped set up a karate competition for Beyond Karate, a group that works with individuals who have disabilities. Students also interacted with the competitors as they escorted them inside and watched them warm up before the tournament.

“We saw just how knowledgeable, equipped and passionate they were. Their disabilities don’t stop them,” Jaiswal said. “It was a humbling experience to see how much passion they had and how they can excel in a sport like karate. They had all the discipline you need for karate instilled in them.”

Witek Nowosiad, founder and chief instructor at Beyond Karate, praised the students’ volunteerism at the karate tournament. 

“The Viva Volunteers were invaluable. They were very proficient, industrious and polite. I could not have asked for more,” Nowosiad said.

Nicole Harrington, business manager for the Office of the Provost, accompanied nine students — mostly Eugene McDermott Scholars — who spent three hours helping residents at Highland Springs Senior Living Community paint pumpkins for Halloween. The community even moved its regular bingo time to accommodate the students’ visit.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but it was truly a lovely experience,” Harrington said. “Some students assisted residents to actualize their vision, and the residents stayed the whole time. It was really fun. Students even got recipes for pumpkin pie. One student wants to take one back to the residents.” 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].