During the weekend of September 18th -20th, alumni chapter leaders from across the nation gathered for the annual Chapter Officers Forum for training, sharing of ideas, and Hokie camaraderie. Through Hokie Nation Serves, chapter volunteers joined their local scholarship recipients in making over 100 hats for children with cancer.
During the Chapter Officers Forum breakfast, volunteers, student chapter scholarship recipients, and student representatives from two of the most successful events on campus, Relay For Life and The Big Event, were in attendance to make hats to benefit children at St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Each hat took about 20 minutes to complete using a needle, thread, fleece, and button. A presentation was also given by several chapters who received the outstanding community service award from past years. Over 100 hats were delivered to needy children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who greatly appreciated our efforts.
We continue to encourage each chapter to host community service projects throughout the year, with a special emphasis on the Hokie Nation Serves. Community service is something that draws together all generations of Hokies. We are fortunate to be graduates of such a great university that exemplifies its motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve.)
The Hokie Nation Serves initiative, started in 2009 by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, is an initiative centered on community service especially during April. The Alumni Association Board of Directors encourages all members of the Hokie Nation to commit to service hours beyond normal commitments to show the world the power of Hokie Pride, Hokie Spirit, and Hokie Tradition.
By Jake Grohs
The Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships (CSECP) recently launched a new theme housing community called Students Engaging and Responding through Volunteer Experiences (SERVE). SERVE creates an environment where first-year students can volunteer throughout the New River Valley – getting to know themselves and the local community better through the process! We believe that this group service and reflection can be a catalyst for personal growth, leadership development, and active citizenship for our students. The commitment to student civic engagement is critical – we must understand our niches in our community in order to more effectively “Invent the Future” for the common good.
In our 2009-2010 pilot year, there are 10 amazing students in SERVE - all live together on the third floor of Pritchard Hall, serve together throughout the New River Valley, and learn together through a three-credit hour course on Communities, Citizenship, and Servant Leadership. Within the course, students use both theoretical context and shared engagement experiences as common ground to reflect together – be it during class discussions, on the classroom blog, or through more formal written assignments. This multi-faceted approach aims at student synthesis beyond just the classroom. Rather, the SERVE living-learning community seeks to blur the lines of academic, social, and civic realms and focus on the student as a “whole individual.”
So far, the SERVE students have been incredibly active – both in service and in reflection! Given below is an excerpt from the blog (www.serveatvt.wordpress.com) where a student reflects on their service at the Christiansburg Community Center helping to clean and reorganize for the launch of a local tutoring program.
As hard as one tries, I think it’s very difficult (almost impossible) to truly believe that we are making a big difference by helping out with things that may seem insignificant. (By insignificant I mean the easy things that we do on a daily basis; like cleaning). That was definitely the case with me. Throughout the day I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t just cleaning. I wanted to believe that I was indirectly helping achieve a greater goal; achieve something that would actually make a difference in someone’s life. Of course, by the end of the day I realized my idea of “greatness” was flawed.
When we were done, I took a step back and looked around the room. I was content. We had worked as a team and we had accomplished our goal. The room looked presentable and child-friendly.
Then I looked at Rita’s face – she was unmistakably filled with joy. What I felt is very hard to describe, but I’ll give it a try. I was immediately overwhelmed with a happiness I haven’t experienced much. I’m not exaggerating. I wasn’t jumping up and down with a huge smile on my face, although I’m sure I was smiling. It was more of an internal happiness.
My goal had not been to make a difference in Rita’s life. I had walked into Christiansburg’s Community Center believing I would help the children in the community get a better education and ultimately a more satisfying life than they would have gotten without the extra educational help. But instead, I felt joy because Rita’s dreams were becoming a reality. She wasn’t the one in “need,” but her passion, enthusiasm, and appreciation for our help made me feel like I had done the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t feel superior. Like Mike once said, it was humbling.
Please feel free to contact Jake Grohs, Assistant Director of Student Engagement Programs, with any questions, comments, or ideas regarding the SERVE community. We welcome the opportunity to have guest speakers present in the SERVE course on issues related to service. Jake can be contacted at email@example.com or 540/231-9186.
As it turns out, you do not need to travel too far from Blacksburg, VA, to help people from Africa. The Pilot Street Project in Roanoke, VA, is an intergenerational outreach to families that have come to our area on refugee status. The purpose of the project is to provide language learning and cultural support leading to self sufficiency and engaged citizenship. The project has been in existence for four years and is coordinated by Amy Nasta.
Currently, the Pilot Street Project serves over 200 men, women, and children from Albania, Somalia, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda, and Sudan. Over 135 Virginia Tech students travel to Roanoke on a regular basis each week of the year to work with the refugees as part of the service learning program. The refugees live in four public housing apartment complexes in Roanoke which is where the programs are typically offered to the refugees. The Pilot Street Project is funded through gifts, grants, cost sharing, and discretionary funds from each of the partner agencies.
The type of service performed by students includes adult English as a Second Language, homework help for children, citizenship education, driving classes, educational enrichment, and family assistance with everyday issues. Survival English classes for adults of all proficiency levels are offered twice a week, with sessions held during the morning and evening hours. All sessions provide childcare for parents while they are in class. The project also provides a children’s book lending program and bi-monthly art classes for children in connection with the Taubman Museum of Art, also in Roanoke. The refugees are expected to become self sufficient within one year of their arrival to the United States so there is much work to be done to assist them in this process.
The Pilot Street Project is the type of heartwarming project that students get “hooked” on once they get involved and get to know the families. The Virginia Tech student volunteers are very dedicated to working with Nasta to assist these families as they struggle to integrate into the American society on a fast track. Here is one of many testimonials from a recent alumnus, Chez Hughes:
Working at Pilot Street as a tutor is an incredible way to serve because you give your time and energy toward something truly lasting. While volunteering you aren’t just filling a space of time once a week but you are directly investing in people and their futures through teaching. The culture and language barrier is such a burden for the students and it is beyond rewarding to be a part of the Pilot Street programs. You will connect with the students on such a human and basic level as well as open your eyes to a new culture.
All five fabulous a cappella groups at Virginia Tech recently held a concert in Squires at Virginia Tech as a fundraiser for Pilot Street—raising about $800. As a special surprise at the concert, three of the young refugee girls from Pilot Street also danced and sang in their native language and received a standing ovation for their beautiful and touching performance. The concert was organized by the Chi Delta Alpha sorority. Honors student Emily Barry is the fundraising chairperson for the sorority and she also is a student employee in the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships (CSECP). Barry is helping to coordinate the Global Citizen Partnership program for CSECP which is a bi-lateral service learning exchange program between Virginia Tech and Tec de Monterrey, Mexico (http://www.vtserves.vt.edu/globalcitizens/index.aspx).
See a related story about Pilot Street written by student Megan Fuson on the “Do Something” website: http://www.dosomething.org/project/global-neighbors-pilot-street.