Madison Vinson thinks the only teacher she knows who’s still at Hixson Middle School is her seventh-grade English teacher, Crystal Birch.
“I wonder if she remembers me. I follow her on Instagram,” said Vinson, a sophomore in biochemistry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who attended Hixson Middle in sixth and seventh grades.
“I remember Madison!” said Birch, who now is dean of students at Hixson Middle and graduated from UTC in 2013 with a master’s in education.
Vinson was one of 21 UTC students spread across Hamilton County on Friday, Sept. 22, for the United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s Day of Caring. Among other jobs, the students volunteered to paint, clean up brush and dirt, chunk building scrap into dumpsters, spray weeds in school vegetable gardens and brush spiderwebs off ceilings.
“We say that we’re Chattanooga’s university, so that means we have to get out in the community and make an impact,” said Daniel Grzesik, director for Leadership Development and Programs in the UTC Office of Housing and Residence Life. “I think it’s important to make the community that we’re in a little bit better, and that’s what we have the opportunity and privilege to do.”
UTC students went to Hixson Middle, Brown Middle School in Harrison and the Chattanooga Zoo to lend a hand as part of the Day of Caring. Vinson and four other students were painting teacher breakrooms at Hixson Middle.
“I’m so thankful for them coming,” Birch said.
At Brown Middle, Kono Sanako, a freshman in psychology and education, was one of six exchange students from Japan helping organize a Care Closet, which provides jackets, snacks, deodorant, toothbrushes and other items to students in need.
“I enjoy helping people,” she said.
Hannah Lancaster, director of nonprofit support and innovation at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, was working with the UTC students at Brown Middle—calling the the opportunity “amazing.”
“I just think engagement in general, for anyone to give back in their community, is not only helpful for them as individuals but also as students—just to connect with other people and see what other people need,” she said.
At Chattanooga Zoo, Kosuke Veno and Keita Murayama—both freshmen from Tokyo, Japan, majoring in communication—spent the morning loading branches and vines into wheelbarrows and pulling kudzu off a fence behind the Education Center and next to a loudly squawking cockatoo.
“I wanted to help. I wanted to have a good experience,” Veno said. “And I wanted to see the animals.”