Southern Seminary’s 1937 Project sends record 450 volunteers to serve Louisville

Communications Staff — April 29, 2016

A record 450 volunteers from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College completed service projects across the city of Louisville during the fourth annual 1937 Project, April 23. The event commemorates the school’s relief efforts in the Great Flood of 1937, when the Ohio River rose to more than 50 feet, creating one of the worst floods in American history.

Tyler Clark, student life director at Southern Seminary, volunteers at Habitat for Humanity.
Tyler Clark, student life coordinator at Southern Seminary, volunteers at Habitat for Humanity.

“This is not just a civic program, but also a spiritual program for our city and that is why it is so, so appropriate that Southern Seminary is right at the center of it,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at the kickoff for the project.

Participants ranging from the ages of 2 to 60 completed 23 projects throughout the Louisville area, totaling over 1,500 hours of service. The 450 volunteers from the seminary community was a 46 percent increase over last year’s record turnout. Included among the projects: building a home for Habitat for Humanity, renovating for Steam Exchange in the Smoketown neighborhood, landscaping for the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, and final renovations and restorations of the childhood home of Louisville boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The Muhammad Ali Childhood Home Museum project was led by Andres and Courtney Vera, three-time 1937 Project volunteers. Their work consisted primarily of landscaping, mowing, and clearing out overgrown vines in preparation for the museum’s grand opening on May 1.

While at the Ali home, the team had the opportunity to meet Rahman Ali and his wife, Caroline, who came to show their appreciation for the 1937 volunteers. During the landscaping, Vera said a volunteer discovered a 25-pound weight in the yard. Upon showing it to Rahman Ali, Muhammad’s younger brother, he confirmed that it belonged to the former heavyweight champion and civil rights activist. The curator for the museum told volunteers he would add it to the museum’s collection.

“Our experiences with the 1937 Project in the past have all been great and not only have we had a chance to meet different people within the SBTS family, but we’ve have a chance to meet people in the community and learn about the different efforts around the city that seek to serve the neighborhoods and citizens of Louisville,” said Vera, a doctoral student from Bogotá, Colombia.

The 1937 Project is a campus outreach that pairs with Mayor Fischer’s Give A Day week of service, an annual effort to encourage compassion in the city of Louisville. Southern Seminary initiated the outreach in 2013 with the goal of sharing the gospel and meeting the practical needs of the community. It is named after the seminary’s relief efforts in the Great Flood of 1937, when Southern became a safe haven, housing orphans and flood victims as well as serving as the temporary office for the mayor during the city’s recovery.

“This has been a beautiful partnership between the seminary and the city,” Fischer said. “The city’s history will be forever wedded to this seminary.”

Christine Gabriel, wife of M.Div. student Kevin Gabriel, serves at the Muhammed Ali Childhood Home Museum.
Christine Gabriel, wife of M.Div. student Kevin Gabriel, serves at the Muhammed Ali Childhood Home Museum.

Jeremy Pierre, Southern’s dean of students, said he has been grateful for the mayor’s leadership because Christians “are all about compassion.” Pierre said this project is one way in which the seminary can continue to foster a love for God and for neighbor and to model service to both future church leaders and the community around them.

“The goal was to show, in the words of Titus 3, ‘perfect courtesy toward all people,’ as a demonstration of how Christ has changed us,” Pierre said. “This was done in hard work as well as gospel conversations with other volunteers also participating in the mayor’s Give A Day program. By the conversations I had with him as well as other folks from the city, I realized that our service was breaking down assumptions about who we are and what we’re about. Compassion is not a secular idea. It is the heart of the Christian message.”

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