From a small patch of weed-covered land at a historic Virginia Key beach to a dining hall where the homeless gather daily for hot meals, University of Miami law students picked up pitchforks and serving spoons recently at more than a dozen sites across Miami-Dade County, , performing good deeds as part of a day of service designed to teach them the responsibility of giving back to the community.
Law students remove mulch at Montgomery Botanical Center, one of more than a dozen sites at which students volunteered as part of the Hope Day of Service.
The annual Hope Day of Service saw more than 200 students volunteer their time and efforts in an event that has come to herald the start of a new academic year at UM’s School of Law.
Volunteer sites ranged from a homeless assistance center in Homestead, where students prepared and served meals, to Ronald McDonald House in Miami, where they cleaned and sorted donations.
“Hope Day is critical because lawyering is about advocacy,” said Marni Lennon, assistant dean for public interest and pro bono and director of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, which spearheads the event. “Law students and lawyers have a responsibility to give back to the community. If lawyers do not understand the communities in which they serve as lawyers, opportunities for problem-solving are missed, and marginalized communities and populations continue to be silenced.”
In Homestead, Hope volunteers began arriving at the Community Partnership for the Homeless before many of the center’s residents had even stirred, preparing hamburgers, baked beans, and pastries before serving the food to about 300 people.
“It means a lot to the men, women, and children living at our center to know that others in the community care about them and that other people take time from their busy lives to help,” said Sharon Haxton, volunteer and community liaison at the center.
In Coral Gables, ten UM law students—with rakes, pitchforks, and trimmers in hand—removed mulch from some of the sun-drenched flower and plant beds at Montgomery Botanical Center, giving the natural ecoturf a chance to grow and provide food and nectar for butterflies and other beneficial insects.
And at Virginia Key Beach, which opened in 1945 as a haven for black residents barred from the county’s segregated beaches, law students joined a group of volunteers from the Greater Miami Service Corps in clearing invasive plant life from a coastal dune where park workers want newly planted sea oats to thrive.
“They did a great job,” Guy Forchion, executive director of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, said of the students’ efforts. “And it was blazing hot out there.” The students enjoyed hot dogs and soft drinks after three hours of hard work.
Forchion added that the students’ volunteer work at Virginia Key was part of an ongoing restoration at the park, where a cultural center chronicling the history of the famous beach will eventually be built.
UM Law’s Lennon said the Hope Day of Service, now in its tenth year, fostered a link between community service and advocacy by ensuring that student leaders at each site discussed with volunteers the agency that was served and the courses, faculty clinics, and organizations where students can further their interests.
“Legal education,” said Lennon, “is a privilege, and with it comes the responsibility to serve.”