Walking slowly through the formerly overgrown yard, the gray-haired couple beamed as they watched college students ripping stumps out of the ground and clearing the brush they could not remove themselves.
"They get more done in a day than we could in a whole year," said 70-year-old Dayton, Tenn., resident Sylvia McManus.
Mrs. McManus and her husband, Thomas, 79, were among dozens of people in the Dayton and Chattanooga areas who allowed Bryan College students to come to their homes Monday as part of the school's campuswide service day in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While most college students were sleeping in on their break from classes, more than 600 students, faculty and staff members at Bryan were gearing up to do heavy lifting and dirty work.
John Moore, a senior at Bryan, was placed on an early morning project cleaning windows and trash cans at an assisted living home in Dayton. It wasn't glamorous work, but it was meaningful, he said.
"I think it's a really good time," Mr. Moore said. "At college we are so focused on what we are doing. This is inconvenient, but the big picture is that it takes our eyes off ourselves. I know a lot of people would say they want to do something meaningful with their lives. It can start today."
Everyone at Bryan, from the president to the maintenance staff, was involved in community service work Monday. Students could choose from an extensive lists of projects, officials said.
Bryan College turned Martin Luther King Jr. Day into a service day in 2004, and the school receives a list of needs from community members, schools, churches and nonprofit organizations every year.
Anna Downer, a staff member with Bryan's Worldview Initiative, said she thinks many students were energized to serve, knowing the devastation, death and desperate needs mounting in Haiti.
Problems at home aren't nearly as severe, she said, but students are aware and want at least to be able to meet the needs of their neighbors.
"We are all hurting for the people in Haiti," said Ms. Downer, who has served during the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day for five years. "It is easy to see people's needs far away. It is harder to see needs that are close and more our responsibility."
Day of volunteering, remembrance, A1
March celebrates King Day, B1
BRYAN SERVICE DAY
* 725: Undergraduate enrollment at Bryan
* 600: Number of students, faculty and staff involved in the service day
* 85: Service projects completed in the Dayton and Chattanooga area
Source: Bryan College