WALLA WALLA -- Few students can say that at the start of their freshman year in college they are already deeply invested in the community in which their school is located.
Yet the 40 students who participated in Whitman College's Summer Community Outreach Excursion could say just that when they gathered Thursday to talk about their experiences.
The excursions, called SCORE for short, are a college-sponsored orientation for incoming students that are offered the week before classes start.
The students participated in programs focused on food and hunger, housing and homelessness or conservation and consumption.
"The goal is to give incoming first-years a really unique experience to be exposed to some really pressing and important issues in the Walla Walla community," said Kelsey Butts, Whitman's community service coordinator.
Activities varied, depending on the focus of the SCORE, and included harvesting potatoes at Welcome Table Farm, working at the Farm Labor Homes, meeting Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark, helping at the Christian Aid Center and working with Creating Urban Resource Buffers.
The students stayed in local churches rather than on campus, in order to get a better feel for Walla Walla.
"They are really prepped for the Whitman education as far as tackling some really challenging issues and learning how to discuss them. And they get the benefit of getting to know other first-years and having that social experience in a smaller setting than when they first come to college," Butts said.
Molly Emmett, from Long Beach, Calif., enjoyed the longer-term community service projects that her housing and homelessness SCORE did.
"My favorite activity was painting at the Christian Aid Center because it was a long-term project on scale with the other ones, because we worked there for three days. We were able to get a lot done," she said.
Nicole Holoboff of New York City, one of the participants in the conservation and consumption, enjoyed seeing the ways in which Walla Walla is making itself sustainable.
"Because I am from so far away, coming here and seeing the community and how it tries to be sustainable ... I wanted to see that difference. I wanted to see the town and know what strides they were making," she said.
Sophie Teague, from Sacramento, Calif., was on the food and hunger SCORE and most enjoyed getting to meet the local Walla Walla residents at the farmer's market. She feels invested in Walla Walla already.
"I have worked in (Walla Walla) and done things to try and make it better for the people in it, and to make it more prosperous and happy, so I kind of have a sense of ownership. I am invested in whether it is successful or not," she said.