WEST PLAINS, Mo. – “We have something to celebrate!,” Missouri State University-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett said Thursday afternoon as he announced the university community had met its goal of giving 50,000 hours of service to area communities as part of the Operation 50K initiative.
Approximately 250 students, faculty, staff and community members – most of whom participated in the initiative – gathered in front of the Lybyer Technology Center for the announcement, which was demonstrated visually by a large, overflowing thermometer showing the goal had been surpassed. University officials noted the goal was met during Missouri State University’s annual public affairs conference, taking place this week at the Springfield campus.
The year-long community service initiative began following 2013 commencement ceremonies as a way to honor the campus’ 50th anniversary. For the past 11 months, faculty, staff, students and those with ties to the university have been recording their volunteer hours online. Tuesday, the number of hours contributed surpassed the 50,000 mark – just over a month from the May 17 commencement deadline set when the initiative began.
“We knew this would be a big challenge,” Bennett said, “but we thought out of the box and invited students, faculty, staff and their families, our advisory board members and their families, and others in the community with ties to the university to participate.”
Student Government Association (SGA) President Dakota Bates, who gave the initiative its name, recounted how the initiative began as a result of a conversation between him and Bennett. “He said that a college in Oregon was celebrating its 50th anniversary and that they were giving back 50,000 hours of volunteer service to their communities. Dr. Bennett then proceeded to ask me if I thought this was possible for our campus to do,” Bates recalled.
After some serious soul searching, “a slight panic attack” and some sleepless nights, Bates said, he told Bennett he could count on the student body. “And today solidifies every reason of why I said yes. It is because of all of the people who are gathered here today who were behind this initiative,” he added.
Bennett thanked several people, including Dr. Herb Lunday, dean of student services, who spearheaded the effort, and Information Technology (IT) Services staff and Director Sue Ingram for developing the website through which the volunteer hours were recorded. “But our students deserve the biggest thanks. They recorded the largest number of hours,” he said.
Bates thanked SGA Vice President Sarah Agee and members of the SGA cabinet for their “hard work and passion” for the campus and this initiative, and Student Life and Development Coordinator Rogers Taylor, who “helped keep us on our toes and motivated. Most importantly, I would like to say thank you to all of the students. It’s your hard work and dedication that made this dream a reality.”
Bennett encouraged everyone to continue logging their hours on the Operation 50K website, noting a final tally will be announced at the May 17 commencement ceremony. “If we collect over 53,300 hours, we will have contributed the equivalent of over $400,000 to the communities we serve,” he said.