Putting up a fence and “tearing down walls.”

Hannibal-LaGrange University could be found doing both Monday morning at the Common Grounds Community Garden in Hannibal.

Putting up a fence and "tearing down walls."

Hannibal-LaGrange University could be found doing both Monday morning at the Common Grounds Community Garden in Hannibal.

"Walls" of communication were being brought down between students, some of whom are adjusting to their new home away from home. Katy Hays of Monroe City, one of the team leaders at the garden site, was pleased with what she was seeing and hearing.

"Sometimes it's hard to get the kids to interact, but these are just going at it and doing a great job," she said.

The students were conversing as they built a wattle fence by interlacing branches. It was a new experience for the students.

"I've helped my parents with regular kinds of fences, but not this kind of fence," said Kara Bichsel of Monroe City.

Jessie Dryden, Community Garden coordinator, was hopeful the task would be a learning experience.

"It's cool just to get them to see all the different things you can do with nature," she said.

Dryden was delighted with the progress that was being made.

"I think they're into it," she said. "At the end of the day it's all about having fun and expressing yourself creatively. If they're doing that, then I feel mission accomplished."

More than one student was enjoying the experience.

"I really enjoy artistic things," said Matt Lange of Sedalia, another of the New Student Orientation team leaders. "This is a really good opportunity to do something good while still doing something that I enjoy, which is art."

"We're being creative and having fun for sure," said Morgan Demczak of Springfield, Ill.

"I'm not generally a person who likes to do outdoor activities, but this is something that will benefit the community, so I'm going it gladly," said John Markworth of St. Louis. "I'm having fun."

A decade old

While HLGU's Helping Hands program is now approximately a decade old, it's not grown stale with students.

"I love being outside and I love helping the community look nice like this. It's a lot of fun. I really enjoy stuff like this," said Haley Zeier of Edwardsville, Ill. "This is one of the things I love about Hannibal-LaGrange University."

"I love it. I love doing volunteer work," said Hays.

While many of Monday's approximately 300 participants were incoming freshmen, Helping Hands is not exclusively for newcomers.

"It's not just new students," said Jeff Brown of HLGU. "There's a good chunk of them that are returning students as well."

According to Brown, the program is intended to help students get to know the community in which their academic "home" is located.

"What it does is help the students engage with the community. A lot of times students will come and only engage here on campus, and then they go home for the weekend," he said. "This is one of those things which help them see and meet some folks in the community. It also lets them know of the needs that are out there which helps to expand their world and broaden their thinking. This is what HLGU is about - community service and missions. This is a very practical way that we help them get their feet wet once they get here."

New experience

Visiting the Community Garden was a first-time experience for Mikayla Murphy of Hannibal.

"Through the recent storm that we had at the end of May, it really opened my eyes to things I don't know about the town. It was nice to be able to see this (garden site)," she said.

HLGU students were working at 13 different sites throughout the community on Monday. University officials frequently hear positive responses from the group's who benefit from the outreach.

"We do and they always want us back. I think that is a good thing," said Brown.

One of those happy to have HLGU students back again was the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department.

"Last year we had HLGU students work at the Mark Twain statue in Riverview Park. They did some landscaping there and did such a great job, we were so grateful for them. This year when they asked us what projects we had going on I felt the Community Garden was perfect for them," said Mary Lynne Richards, assistant supervisor for promotion and planning for the Parks Department. "Jesse Dryden has been trying to get this wattle fence up. It just takes a lot of hands so it's just perfect for these HLGU students."

Even if the Parks Department wasn't benefitting from the free labor, Richards would be a fan of the Helping Hands outreach.

"I think this is a great program because this teaches HLGU students who aren't from here a little bit about Hannibal. It gets them away from the college campus and teaches them what's downtown, what we offer in Hannibal, and I love that part of it," she said.