Learning Day: Valencia Employees Give Back to the Community

More than 1,000 Valencia Community College employees collectively undertook a massive public service project Friday as a way of giving thanks for the community’s ongoing support.

It was all part of Learning Day, an annual event in which all college campuses are closed and faculty and staff gather to focus on the college’s learning-based mission.

Traditionally, activities have been campus-based and involved a variety of activities.

This year, employees started the day off by gathering under one roof — UCF Arena — for a rare convocation.

Attendees heard from distinguished alumni about how Valencia helped shape their lives:

Eddie Ruiz, principal of Jackson Middle School. Ruiz received his AA degree in 1999 and went on to graduate from UCF two years later. He is currently in the doctoral program at UCF. Before becoming a principal, he worked as a science teacher. He was a finalist for Orange County Teacher of the Year in 2006. Note: He attended Jackson Middle as a teen.

Abeer Beshir Abdalla, a 2005 Valencia grad — also named that year’s Distinguished Graduate — who works as a writer and communications specialist in Washington, D.C. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCF. She is also a former president of Valencia’s Alumni Association.

Francis Angibeaud Montjen, a Cameroon native who earned an AA degree from Valencia in 2002. Since moving to the United Kingdom, he’s received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southampton and is currently working on a master’s degree in finance and banking at Queen Mary University in London.

Following the convocation, employees jumped on buses for a ride to Moss Park in southeast Orlando.

Their mission: spruce the place up for the enjoyment of the entire community.

At the park/campground, employees:

— Widened and mulched the Bear Island Nature Trail.

— Replaced old guide poles and filled potholes.

— Cleaned up landscaping at the park’s entrance, removed invasive plants and cleared vegetation in certain areas to enhance sight-lines.

— Raked volleyball courts and filled with new sand.

— Cleaned playground equipment.

— Cleaned and refinished picnic tables, fire rings and grills.

Valencia teamed with Hands on Orlando, a nonprofit group that connects volunteers with service projects, to organize the Moss Park clean-up.

Valencia President Sandy Shugart thanked employees at the end of the day, saying he liked the idea of a collective service learning project because it presented the rare opportunity for employees of the far-flung college community to come together in one place.

Choosing a public park as a focus instead of splintering across different projects had deep meaning too, he said.

“A park is great because it represents the community,” Shugart said.

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