An Everyday Commitment: CU Gives Back

Cumberland University is giving back. As an institution and as a campus family, Cumberland is working every day to return the support it receives from the community. From president to professor, from staff to student, people at the 169-year-old institution are helping others not just through education, but also through direct community involvement. As Cumberland celebrates an academic year of record enrollment and unprecedented growth, the University is also undertaking a variety of volunteer projects in Lebanon, Wilson County, and even overseas.

“We as a team and as a university at Cumberland wanted to go out into the community and help those in need…”

For CU’s Cycling Team, that volunteerism has taken the form of books and bicycles. In 2010, the team partnered with Nashville-based organization Ride for Reading to begin a book program dedicated to advancing literacy in Wilson County. A nonprofit charity, Ride for Reading is a grassroots organization that distributes books to children in low-income neighborhoods via bicycle with the aim of promoting learning and healthy lifestyles. In 2010, Cycling Team Coach Tim Hall approached the organization with the idea of developing a new chapter.

For Hall, the program seemed like a perfect way for the tea

m to reach local children.

“We as a team and as a university at Cumberland wanted to go out into the community and help those in need,” said Hall. “Ride for Reading highlights literacy and cycling together to get books into the hands of young kids, and for us, it fed right into our passion as bicyclists and readers. I reached out to the organization’s founder, and since then, it’s just taken off.”

In early 2010, the cycling team established Ride for Reading’s new Wilson County chapter in earnest by collecting hundreds of children’s books from donations both on and off-campus. That April, the team set out with book-filled backpacks to visit hundreds of first and second-graders at Coles Ferry Elementary School. Arriving to welcoming cheers, the team ran a two-lap race for the children and spoke to them about bicycle safety and literacy. After the demonstration, the team gave each of the approximately 250 children a book of their choice.

Since then, the team has followed-up with several further bicycling book deliveries in Lebanon and Watertown, working with a number of local schools and organizations while assembling a pool of approximately 3,000 donated books. Directed by cyclist and project coordinator Juan Torres, the cycling team members have volunteered their time over the past two years to collect, sort, and deliver more than 600 books to local children.

Now planning their next delivery, the team is excited to continue fostering literacy in the local community.

“Our goal with Ride for Reading, as a team, is to help children become more active and avid readers, and through that, to increase their literacy and success later in life,” explained Hall. “All you have to do is see the smiles on these young kid’s faces, see their excitement, see them yelling and cheering as you ride up, and you know you’ve succeeded. It’s living proof that what we’re doing in the community is making a difference and matters.”

That difference is measured by the step—and by the run—for Tony Dedman, Cumberland’s Director of Information Technology. Since 2009, Dedman has led a team of Cumberland faculty, staff, and students in Sherry’s Run, an annual five-kilometer competitive walk/run benefiting local cancer sufferers and survivors. Attracting more than 100 teams and 3,000 participants in 2011 alone, Sherry’s Run helps provide financial assistance to cancer sufferers for medications, treatment, and related expenses.

“Sherry’s Run is a cause, and the athletic aspect of it is just a byproduct of an event that lets the entire community come together as a whole to help others,” said Dedman. “I ran in the event in 2008. I knew that the race gives people who join it a feeling that they’re involved in something good, and I wanted to get Cumberland involved.”

In 2009, Dedman did just that, sending out an email calling for volunteers to run in that year’s Sherry’s Run. In the following weeks, Cumberland students, faculty, and staff responded, forming “Team Cumberland” under Dedman. Cumberland’s Rudy School of Nursing responded to the event as well, forming a sister team with more than 150 participants. Whether walking or running, both teams participated in the run, raising a combined total of more than $3,500 for the benefit.

Since 2009, both Cumberland teams have continued to participate in Sherry’s Run, raising a combined three-year total of more than $8,000 for local cancer victims through the benefit. In 2010, Dedman and his team ran in honor of Linda Major, a Cumberland staff member who passed away from cancer. Having recently completed their third race in September 2011, both of Cumberland’s teams plan to participate in next year’s run as well.

For Dedman, it isn’t difficult to understand why.

“We’ve had three great years, and our running reflects the CU spirit,” said Dedman. “Events like these offer us an avenue to help people directly and to give back. We’re not an island at Cumberland University, alone in the middle of Lebanon. We’re a community-involved institution.”

For Cumberland, that commitment also extended beyond Wilson County in 2011, as the institution reached out to assist American servicemen and women deployed overseas. In late September, Alumni Relations Coordinator Meredith McDowell of CU’s Advancement Office spearheaded a donation drive to collect care packages for U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

Ironically, the project began when the Advancement Office noticed an alumnus’s chance message on social media.

“We’re Facebook friends with Jonathan Ramey, a Cumberland graduate serving overseas in Afghanistan,” explained McDowell. “Ramey is serving in the Army at a remote outpost without running water, and he reached out to people to ask if anyone might have items they could send to help him and his fellow soldiers. When we saw his message, we knew it would be a great opportunity to do something good.”

McDowell quickly organized a donation drive for the soldiers, sending out emails to Cumberland and the Wilson County community with a list of the requested items. The response was phenomenal. In the following weeks, McDowell received donations not only from Cumberland University, but also from Lebanon High School and McClain Christian Academy.

…it was like Christmas Day for soldiers to open packages like that…

By mid-October, the Advancement Office would receive more than 300 items, enough to fill 27 boxes. Each box contained seemingly common items that are precious to soldiers serving overseas, such as baby wipes, protein bars, detergent packs, energy drinks, and peanut butter. The boxes also contained letters from students at Lebanon High School. On October 24, the Advancement Office mailed the packages to the men of Ramey’s unit, to the alumnus’s surprise.

“When we posted a picture of the items we were sending, Ramey immediately responded, saying that it was like Christmas Day for soldiers to open packages like that,” said McDowell. “We take so many things for granted, and hopefully these items will put a smile on the soldiers’ faces and let them know we appreciate what they’re doing.”

The project is but one of the latest of Cumberland’s volunteer initiatives. For CU, community isn’t a location that ends at the edge of campus. Instead, it’s a commitment that begins with the efforts of dedicated volunteers reaching out to extend Cumberland’s spirit of giving beyond the classroom. Whether through fostering child literacy, raising money for medical assistance, or donating goods for soldiers, Cumberland University is giving back every day.