How Liberty can better use its massive means for good in the community.
Over the past decade, Lynchburg and Liberty have experienced major growth.
Since 1992, Liberty has grown student body-wise 783 percent, with incoming freshman numbers growing for the past few years and a myriad of expansions and construction growing the campus. Liberty’s endowment reached $1 billion last year the third-fastest growing in the United States between 2016 and 2017.
The city of Lynchburg is experiencing its own renaissance, beginning with the renovation and remodeling of many downtown roads and buildings. The city has also adopted the Downtown Lynchburg 2040 Master Plan, a blueprint forecasting Lynchburg’s economic, social and cultural development over the next 21 years.
That being said, Lynchburg still has many challenges. They are fighting against poverty and struggling with funds for the city.
While Liberty is a Christian university that does a lot of good for the community, there are still ways they could better serve Hill City.
According to the city’s website, Lynchburg struggles greatly with poverty.
The city’s poverty rate is 23.1 percent, with a household median income of $39,589. This is 9.6 percent higher than the national poverty rate compared to Charlottesville, Roanoke and Portsmouth.
These numbers do not mean that Liberty is not helping Lynchburg. A recent report shows that Liberty has a $1 billion economic impact on the state, and much of that will go into its host city. The university creates thousands of jobs and is a benefit to the community.
But if Liberty wants to make a lasting financial contribution to the city of Lynchburg, they need to use their money strategically.
By setting up employment programs, Liberty can train Lynchburg residents for better-paying jobs and more fruitful employment opportunities. I am not saying Liberty should be handing out free educations, but providing programs where people can receive training that will increase their job experience and qualifications to work so they can find more gainful employment.
Liberty does an admirable job of emphasizing community service.
Each LU student is required to perform 20 hours of community service per semester, commonly known as CSER. According to LU Serve Associate Director Timothy Yonts, Liberty students put in 500,000 hours of community service annually. While not all of this is going toward Lynchburg, the student’s involvement with the community is a benefit to the city.
But it is not enough.
As a student, I’ve noticed how many simple community service options contribute to those 500,000 hours. I never really got invested with an organization through CSER. Instead, I usually looked for something that would best fit my needs and time constraints.
Students can either choose to volunteer at organizations that utilize students to benefit the community like the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center or the Lynchburg Lighthouse Community Center, or they can sign up for simpler opportunities like Scaremare, where students will likely spend their 20 hours standing in a dark corner trying to look spooky or sitting on a bus making howling noises.
Liberty needs to encourage more meaningful community service opportunities and make sure the force of good that students can accomplish in the community is not squandered.
In my four years at Liberty, I have seen both the school and city change drastically.
Whenever there was a new building opened, a project announced or interesting event happening on campus, the students would be abuzz with chatter and speculation.
Whenever Lynchburg went through a major change, many students had no idea.
Knowledge is power, and it would be extremely beneficial for Liberty to update students on their local community during mass gatherings so that they know how to best reach out to their community.
The city also needs to find better ways to connect with Liberty students. Given that large numbers of students are gathered together weekly at events like Campus Community and Convocation, Lynchburg has many opportunities to reach a large number of students, with Liberty’s permission.
Liberty is big on service and helping others. They send their students all over the world on mission trips and find many ways to reach out from Lynchburg.
But for Liberty to emulate Jesus Christ, they need to look in their own backyard.