By Yadira Betances
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — In 1947, Merrimack College opened with the mission of providing veterans returning from World War II a good Catholic higher education based on the teachings of St. Augustine.
To honor that tradition, 600 students, staff, faculty, administrators and alumni will do different service projects on Saturday in Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and Lowell to mark Veterans Day.
“We were looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Veterans Day rather than just take a day off,” said the Rev. Ray Dlugos, vice president for mission and student affairs.
The service project is called Mack Gives Back with its slogan, “We honor those who serve by serving others,” Dlugos said. The day of service also falls close to Nov. 13, the birthday of St. Augustine, who founded the order of priests who run the college.
Participants will meet at the Multipurpose Room for breakfast and prayer service before boarding buses to the different locales. They include YMCA of Greater Lawrence, Lawrence Fire Department and the Lawrence Department of Public Works. Merrimack students and faculty members will also rake leaves, collect branches and clean the graves in the veteran’s section at St. Mary Immaculate Conception Cemetery and Bellevue Cemetery both in Lawrence.
“The time is appreciated,” said Tom Ferris, director at Bellevue Cemetery.
“This is their way of giving back to the community and it must make them feel good knowing that they are making a difference on Veterans Day,” Ferris said.
This is the second year Merrimack College sponsors Mack Gives Back — last year 200 members of the college community participated, Dlugos said.
“People enjoyed it. They thought it was a good experience and told their friends,” he said, citing the reason for the participation increase.
“We’re hoping that they be exposed to places and people who really do need help, and that their experience can help them see they can make a difference, even if in a small way, and ask questions about social justice and equality in the world,” said Dlugos, who has been at Merrimack College for six years.
In addition to serving others, Dlugos and Jimmy Jacobs, director of St. Mary Cemetery Immaculate Conception Cemetery, said participants will also see it as a learning experience.
St. Mary Cemetery has 400 veterans from as far back as the Civil War.
“When they see the veteran’s grave, I hope they start asking questions on who they were,” Jacobs said.
Dlugos hopes the service project draws attention to today’s veterans and their reintroduction into civilian life.
“The more we’re able to teach about the reality of what veterans go through, the more we’re be able to care for them and appreciate them more.
From my own personal experience, I believe that understanding what is like to be a veteran is the best motivation to work for peace in the world,” he said.