UT-Austin students beautify East Austin neighborhood during ‘The Project’

Andrew Zhang

Armed with paint brushes, gardening tools and hammers, members of the UT community volunteered in St. Johns, an Austin neighborhood, on Saturday as part of The Project, UT’s largest annual day of service. 

UT students started The Project in 1999 as a way to serve the Austin community. This year, the St. John’s neighborhood in East Austin hosted The Project for the first time since 2010. Over 700 students signed up to complete a variety of beautification projects, including painting, gardening and building in different areas of the neighborhood, such as Northeast Early College High School.

The Project’s purpose is to foster closer ties between UT and its neighboring communities, especially underserved communities, said Karan Bahl, an outreach committee member for The Project.  

“There’s a lot of places (throughout Austin) that could use a bit of upkeep and beautification,” finance junior Bahl said. “We really wanted to give these people what they deserve — bright clean spaces to live their lives every day.” 

Jillian Merritt, a Plan II and chemical engineering freshman, helped mulch soil beds and weed gardens around the high school. Merritt said she appreciates what the event has set out to do.

“UT, with all its students, has a lot of influence in the community,” Merritt said. “It’s really important that we use (that influence) for good, especially in these communities that need more help.”

Business sophomore Jeremy Thompson-Seyon painted handrails around the high school and said the work done by the volunteers could increase morale for high school students.

“(It’ll be) nice for the kids to come in and see that they have some nice new painted rails, a new garden and all the other stuff that we’re renovating around the school,” Thompson-Seyon said. “(These improvements) will make them want to come learn and enrich their environment, which is really the key to their future.”

Stephanie Lang, program administrator for UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said she appreciated UT student’s effort to give back specifically to the St. John’s community.

“St. John’s has an amazing history,” said Lang. “It started as a freedom colony … the history and the community is amazing, and unfortunately, this is a community that has been underserved and underrepresented. It has been forgotten in many ways. It’s really important — the work that’s been done by people in the community and the way UT is trying to support those ongoing efforts.”