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College students helping clean Reynolds Preserve

Boston College sophomore, Meyha Swaroop, said last year was an eye-opening experience for her, when she spent her spring break doing community-service work with the college's Boston College Appalachia Volunteers Program.

Swaroop said she had never done that kind of service before she got to college, but was inspired being at a private, Boston, Mass.-based Catholic college where service to others is encouraged.

"I really liked the idea, and I was really excited to do it again," she said.

Eighteen Boston College students are in Morrow this week, which is their spring break week, to help clean up around the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve. This is the third year students have come to Morrow during spring break to do community-service work.

The students here are among 600 from the college who are members of the Boston College Appalachia Volunteers Program, said Mike Burke, the co-head coordinator for the volunteer program. He is also co-leader of the group spending this week in Morrow. He said there are 36 groups of students from the program doing service projects throughout the Appalachia region this week.

He said the Boston College Appalachia Volunteers Program is approximately 36 years old. "A lot of [Boston College] students used to just be from the Massachusetts area," Burke said. "So, this program was started to just broaden their understanding of the U.S., and to give them an opportunity do a little bit of community service as well."

Burke added that the project also gives students an opportunity to build relationships with people in other communities. "If they form relationships with people in these communities that they go to, then, they are more likely to follow up on that in the future," he said.

Swaroop, the other co-leader for the group working in Morrow this week, added that most students at Boston College are eager to do community-service projects, and, therefore, do not look down on going to communities across the Appalachian Mountain chain, to do work during spring break.

"There are a lot of kids at Boston College that want to serve," she said. "We don't really think about it as giving up our spring break. People do it because they want to be here."

City of Morrow Code Enforcement Officer Marti Tracy said the city was hooked up with the Boston College students through a program called "Volunteers for Community," which partners colleges with communities for service projects.

She said the work the city has had Boston College students do has grown in scope from working on a single resident's home two years ago, to fixing up condominiums last year, to working on a property that is open for all residents of the community to use.

"It's grown in the benefit," Tracy said. "This year, we're hoping to help more people their presence. This year, we feel like we're able to give a gift to the entire county."

On Tuesday, some of the students got dirty pulling weeds near the preserve's picnic area, while others ended up covered in patches of varnish while they painted the outside walls of a restroom facility. Yet another group was applying a pressure-wash treatment to the hut at the outdoor classroom.

Nature Preserve Ranger John Williams, who is overseeing the students' work, said they have been helping to keep the property cleaned up, doing work that would typically take rangers a longer period to do themselves. He said he was planning to have the students build bird houses, and pull invasive Chinese privets today.

"It's been awesome, when a group comes out and actually works together as a team," Williams said. "They're doing a month's worth of work in one week."