A group of incoming University of Louisiana at Lafayette freshmen gathered Tuesday at local parks and senior centers to make a positive mark on the community that will be their home for the next four to five years.

SOUL Camp, or Service Outreach Unification and Leadership, is a four-day program designed to supplement new student orientation. The program, which originated in 2010, provides the incoming freshmen with the tools to develop leadership and networking skills and a Ragin’ Cajun spirit.

For the first day, the campers bond throughout the morning and then do community service projects in Lafayette in the afternoon.

“SOUL Camp is such a great introduction to what will be some of our best and brightest student leaders on campus,” said Gretchen Vanicor, director of sustainability at the university and a faculty mentor for the service day. “This is a great introduction for them to Lafayette, to the community, to the university. It introduces them to a lot of the organizations that really make Lafayette a special place.”

For Macie Weaver, 18, of New Orleans, the service day is her way of giving back to her new community. While in high school, she earned over 1,000 community service hours working in neighborhoods in her home city, she said. Weaver, who is a special-education major, said she saw the camp as a way to create long-lasting bonds with peers.

“You get to meet so many new people from everywhere — like there’s a bunch of people from Texas here,” Weaver said as she picked up trash at Heymann Park. “It’s pretty cool seeing how everything is going to play out, especially with these new people.”

Throughout the week, campers face group exercises designed to hone their team-building skills. That aspect of the camp appealed to Sharmond Tanner, an 18-year-old marketing student from Shreveport.

“I knew that this is building leadership and I know that’s a good thing to build upon,” Tanner said.

This year, SOUL Camp partnered with the Lafayette Consolidated Government and Project Front Yard to find places in the community that needed beautification. On Tuesday, campers were divided among work at the Greenhouse Senior Center, Rosehouse Senior Center, Dorsey Donlon Park and Heymann Park.

“I know the appearance of our city is important to all of us, so to have all these people involved at a young age with picking up trash and helping beautify our parks is important to the future of our community,” said Katherine McCormick, an assistant to city-parish President Joey Durel. McCormick, who is also the coordinator of Project Front Yard, helped campers clean at Heymann Park on Tuesday.

This week was the last of three camps this summer involving some 600 freshmen.