June 26, 2015 | By Jake Weber
Albion College's Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service was hopping as staffers organized a visit by 120 members of Knox Presbyterian Church from Naperville, Illinois, June 14-20. The church, which has a College connection via the Ford Institute, chose the Albion community as its annual mission trip destination. Over the course of the visit, the group invested some 5,000 service hours toward community improvement and beautification projects.
"For the last three years, Justin has told me about new community initiatives happening in Albion," said Knox member Ginny Sullivan Van Blaricom, '83, an Albion College alumna whose son Justin, '16, is a current member of the Ford Institute. "The things happening in Albion are the kinds of projects our church tries to support. When we brought Albion up to our Go and Serve committee, they voted overwhelmingly to come here this year."
A main focus of the week was Albion's Holland Park Transformation Project, a major renovation of one of Albion's largest city parks, but the group took on nearly 70 additional projects—for Albion Public Schools, other public and community spaces, and for low-income or disabled residents. "It was very inspirational helping at Holland Park, seeing an area that was kind of plain turn into something amazing," said Mercedes Pace, '19, one of the College's Build Albion Fellows and a member of the Ford Institute. "Working on this project impacted my decision to join Ford, because Ford really cares about the community. I want to participate in things like this that help shape not only Albion, but anywhere else."
Along with thousands of hours of labor, Knox Presbyterian gave $5,000 to match funds raised within the community. Eddie Visco, associate director of the Ford Institute, noted that many local businesses donated materials or sold them at reduced cost. "We had closer to $10,000 in donations from businesses and individuals in the community," Visco said. The Albion Community Foundation and the Albion Rotary also contributed through grant funding.
"We will always be grateful to our friends from Knox Presbyterian church," said Ford Institute Director Patrick McLean. "They came to Albion with a spirit of service and they left as friends. The Knox volunteers, along with dozens of Albion citizens, helped build community this week."
"The buildings have been updated since I was a student, but the community still has that same friendly, welcoming feeling," Ginny Van Blaricom added. "It thrills me to see the town and the College coming together. To be even a tiny part of that process feels great."