JACKSONVILLE — Justin Jones spent a hot August Saturday morning carrying crates and fetching a refrigerator.
Jones was one of thousands of Jacksonville State University students who moved back to their campus housing Saturday for the fall semester. After a slow trickle of early arriving athletes and band members, the larger student body of the university returned to JSU ahead of the start of classes Wednesday.
JSU returnees find a campus still healing from the effects of the March 19, 2018, tornado that damaged most campus buildings, but one much improved from last year’s move-in day memories.
“It’s a very big change,” Jones, a JSU junior from Huntsville, said as he prepared to move some of his belongings into the dormitory Sparkman Hall. “Even moving out my freshman year was so difficult, because there was a fence around Dixon. It’s a big improvement. It’s been slow, but it is present.”
Several campus buildings were still in the midst of repairs at last year’s move-in day, with students having to navigate myriad fences and barriers with their possessions. On Saturday, JSU’s Houston Cole Library and music building Mason Hall were still undergoing repairs, while Merrill Hall and Wallace Hall, former homes of business and nursing programs respectively, are set to be demolished and rebuilt.
Saturday’s move-in saw more than just students take on the burden of moving books, furniture and clothes. Families and friends moved in packs to unpack, while volunteers from JSU staff and church groups helped lighten the load for other students. A group from Church of the Highlands in Oxford, for example, was on hand to give a hand, wearing red shirts that flagged them as a “serve team.”
“We knew that there would be a lot to do, so we came to help out students and do outreach for the church,” said volunteer Paul Moore.
Eric Cline, a JSU senior living in the housing at JSU’s Wesley Foundation, said he spent Friday evening preparing for the arrival of students by cleaning.
“We have to get it ready for the ones who come in the fall,” Cline said.
Cline and other students who stay in housing provided by the campus ministry play an active leadership of the organization.
“The people who stay here are a big part in building the community of Wesley,” Cline said.
The first week on campus for JSU students, known as welcome week, is planned to provide plenty of activities to get students prepared for a return to their studies. The university’s Student Government Association officers will hold a greeting event Monday, and campus organizations offer an information session Tuesday.
On Thursday at 6 p.m. is Spirit on Mountain Street, the annual festival jointly put on by JSU and the City of Jacksonville on Mountain Street outside of JSU’s football stadium. Local restaurants will offer samples of food to raise money for the Jacksonville Christian Outreach Center, and “American Idol” competition winner Scotty McCreery will take the stage for a concert at 8 p.m.