Leadership Day has a new name and some COVID-caused adjustments, but the spirit of service is exactly the same

Photo: (left) Cadet Samantha Walton, contributor to this story and Regimental Public Affairs NCO, volunteering to make masks at The Citadel

2020 will be a year without Leadership Day at The Citadel — but that does not mean that the South Carolina Corps of Cadets will go a single day of the year without acting as servant leaders.

However, even after the pandemic is behind us, Leadership Day will not return. That’s because, thanks to a generous donation from one alumni class, the annual event has a new name.

A nearly $1 million contribution — surpassing their goal of $604,000 — will permanently endow the Class of 1979 Leadership Day

“In support of strategic commitments to service learning and development of principled leaders, The Citadel’s annual Leadership Day entails all regularly scheduled classes replaced with an on or off campus training, seminar, or service project for all cadets. All activities on Leadership Day are designed to engage students in a meaningful educational and developmental process outside the classroom. This gift will ensure the continuation and future growth of this program and further the development of principled leaders.”

The Class of 1979, The Citadel Foundation

The Class of 1979 Leadership Day will have an immediate chance to live up to its new name — the first major challenge is overcoming year’s difficulties and setting the stage for many more Class of 1979 Leadership Days to come.

One of the most visible aspects of a normal Leadership Day is when Citadel cadets travel into the community, donating their time to local schools and organizations. Activities are divided by class. Freshmen visit local elementary schools, sophomores choose from a variety of service projects, juniors take part in an on-campus Ethics Enrichment Experience and seniors visit local businesses and organizations to learn from Lowcountry leaders.

Cadets shoveling oyster shells at U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Cadets shoveling oyster shells at U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2019

This year, in the COVID environment, the Corps will have a smaller physical presence in the community, but with the same large impact. Groups of freshmen cadets will design and record lessons about what makes a hero, which will be shared with elementary, middle and high schoolers in the area. Sophomores will still travel out to work on service projects, but will do so on two separate days in November; other sophomores will serve as team leaders for the freshmen. Juniors and seniors will be assigned virtual lessons to replace their normal activities.

But just because the Class of 1979 Leadership Day looks different this year doesn’t mean cadets have stopped serving the community on a daily basis.

Hear from some Citadel cadets below and how they’ve been making every day a leadership day.

Sweetgrass Garden, by Cadet Lucy Pincus

I enjoy doing community service. It’s a great way to help a person or an organization in the local community. It’s also a great way to get off campus and to ease your mind off cadet stuff.

On one weekend we had an inspection and, right after it was over, I went to volunteer at a farm called Sweetgrass Garden.

Some of the tasks were gardening, mowing the lawn, moving and placing down mulch, taking care of the goat pens, and other various activities. I really enjoyed it, and I will go back there again.

I got to meet and talk to new people, we bonded as a group and ended the effort by sitting around a bond fire. We also got to bring back a small jar of honey, collected from bees on the farm, as well as a bag of sunflower seeds. 

Feed a Friend, by Cadet Hunter Smith

This was my first-time doing Feed-A-Friend Friday, but I was extremely eager to make a difference.

Each Friday a non-profitable organization cooks and provides food to homeless people in downtown Charleston. My favorite part of the experience was seeing the warm smiles on the faces of those in line when they received a warm meal, and seeing that a plate of food can make someone’s day better.

My job was handing out water to those in line, and I extremely enjoyed the small conversations that I had with them as they waited in line. I know that also made their day for someone just to greet them and make them feel welcomed.

My goal is to be the person that cares when they don’t have someone else who does.

Hope to Home, by Cadet Javonte Spratley

Volunteering for Hope To Home was a great experience for me. This was the first time I decided to volunteer for service hours without being told to do so.

I was able to travel around to different donors and collect the items that they donated, going to the formerly homeless who just got houses. I would also send the donations back to the warehouse.

This allowed me to go out of my way to help my community and also learn about my community. I was able to see how happy and glad the donors were when we came to pick up their donations, and I was able to see how happy the team members were when we finished putting everything in the warehouse. 

This experience has opened my eyes to how much volunteering allows me to see and do. After I finished volunteering, I joined the Rotaract Club because I loved going out of my way to help the community and those who need help. If I was ever asked to volunteer for Hope For Homes again, I would gladly do it. 

Beidler Forest Audubon Center, by Cadet Samantha Walton

An exhilarating and gratifying part of The Citadel experience is the ability to unselfishly give your time to others around you. It is such a heartwarming feeling, continuing to expound upon The Citadel’s rich heritage of making a positive impact in the South Carolina community.

On the first Saturday of September, The Citadel’s Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics gave 13 cadets an opportunity to serve at Audubon’s Beidler Forest Service.

The Beidler Forest Audubon Center is a service that administers the ecosystem of the forest and grasslands of the Lowcountry. The forest is a picturesque part of nature offering sundry trails, campground sights, and a birds-eye view of South Carolina’s exquisite wildlife. 

The energized team arrived on site at about 8 a.m., enthused and eager to be hands on worker-bees. We were first introduced to the three-man squad and given further knowledge about the expectation to fulfill the duties and tend to the forest.

The team was then split up into groups of no more than five, while being sure to execute COVID-19 protocols of social distancing. The objective for the my team was cutting back the overrunning sweetgum trees, branches and anything in the way of the fire breakers along the nature trails.

It was such an enjoyable experience to participate in a new service, beautifying and giving an alluring appeal to nature that God so carefully designed for us to enjoy. I took away the significance of maintaining our habitats to sustain a flourishing environment for our animals and mankind. 

The cadet perspectives are courtesy of Samantha Walton, the Regimental Public Affairs non-commissioned officer, who also contributed her own volunteer story above.