Emory Cares: 20 Years of Serving with Heart

For Renelda Mack 83C, Emory Cares started as an idea to unite alumni around the world. As the program turns 20 this year, more than 1,000 volunteer projects have served communities in 255 cities worldwide. 

Emory alumni, students, faculty and staff have restored oyster habitats in Charleston, cleaned up wetlands outside of Los Angeles, planted trees in Houston, and grown vegetables in an urban garden in Birmingham. They mentored young children in Delhi, India. In Seoul, South Korea, they volunteered at a home for mentally and physically disabled men. 

As president of the Emory Alumni Association, Mack was inspired to create Emory Cares by a reunion of Bobby Jones Scholars in St Andrews, Scotland. She ran her idea past fellow Emory Alumni Board members, who suggested she talk to Volunteer Emory — the student-led volunteer organization. And, on November 15, 2003, volunteers in 14 cities across the country participated in the first Emory Cares Day of Service.

Emory Cares became international a year later by adding a service project in London. Over the next few years, Emory communities in Barcelona, Frankfurt, Madrid and Seoul joined projects near them.

The effort has also expanded the types of volunteer opportunities. In 2003, all Emory Cares projects focused on hunger relief. “I knew that no matter where alumni live, there’s a local food bank near them,” says Mack. Today the projects are as varied as the communities in which Emory alumni live.

Every project creates lasting memories, especially during times of crisis. In November 2006, New Orleans was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The devastation wiped out entire neighborhoods, many of which were already under-resourced. A group of Emory alumni, students and staff members from Atlanta joined New Orleans alumni to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, rebuilding houses in Musicians’ Village in the Upper Ninth Ward.

One of the longest-running service projects comes from the Oxford College community.

Since 2004, volunteers have collected items for children in foster care. Each Emory Cares Day, they pack shoeboxes with toiletries, toys and books for the Newton County Division of Family and Children to give to children as they enter foster care.

“It’s been great to see this project grow. Students, alumni, parents, friends, and faculty and staff members pack hundreds of boxes each year. I’ve also seen young volunteers fall in love with Oxford and become students here a few years later,” says Tammy Camfield 89Ox 91C, senior director of advancement and alumni engagement at Oxford.

Even during the pandemic, Emory Cares found a way to connect the Emory community with volunteer opportunities by offering virtual service projects. These included writing encouraging notes to Emory students, donating to food banks and school-supply drives through Amazon wish lists, and conducting voter-registration drives online.

Even as Emory Cares has evolved over the years, Mack’s vision of uniting the Emory community continues to drive the program forward. Emory Cares is connecting Atlanta-area alumni with local nonprofits through the new Community Leadership Impact Program, for example. Volunteers learn to be influential nonprofit board members as they expand their networks, develop professionally and give back to their communities.

To celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary, Emory Cares is calling on members of the Emory community around the world to join a service project — in person or virtually — or volunteer on their own.

Emory Cares International Day of Service is Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Faculty, staff and alumni can register for a project through the Emory Cares website and students can register through the Emory Open website to keep the tradition of serving with heart going.

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