Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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U.Va. Student Volunteers Give Back at New Madison House Sites

For many University of Virginia students, a new fall semester brings new opportunities to serve. At Madison House, U.Va.’s student volunteer center, students are fulfilling Jeffersonian ideals of public service by giving back to the Charlottesville community through three new programs this fall.

With more than 3,000 students volunteering each week in 19 distinct programs, Madison House is the largest student-run volunteer organization at U.Va. More than half of each graduating class at U.Va. volunteers with Madison House, where students serve as tutors, construction workers, day-care helpers, patient service representatives, role models, peer counselors and other opportunities. 

Teaching Kids to Cook with the PB&J Fund

The PB&J Fund has enlisted the help of Madison House volunteers this fall to assist in providing cooking classes for children ages 8 to 13. The program aims to teach participants culinary and nutritional knowledge, including food preparation, etiquette and making healthy choices. Each week, the PB&J Fund serves approximately 125 children.

The fund offers two programs. The “Creative Cook” program teaches culinary arts, nutrition, math and kitchen safety. The “Primo Plato” (or “First Plate”) program works with mothers and their preschool-aged children to teach creative ways to cook. Recipes vary depending on the season, the food group the program is emphasizing and the culinary skill level of the class.

While the PB&J Fund has existed since 2009, this year marks the first time it has partnered with Madison House, explained third-year student and site leader Zack Bartee. Eleven U.Va. students are currently working with the program, which runs after school Mondays through Thursdays at various school locations and at the fund’s new kitchen on Market Street.

“The most rewarding part of the experience so far was our volunteer training Sept. 17 at the PB&J Fund's beautiful new downtown kitchen space,” Bartee said in an email. “There, we were finally able to make the transition from the constant stream of email, scheduling and other administrative work to meeting all of the other volunteers, working hands-on with food and just having fun.

“Along with that, the excess of gratitude [program directors] Alicia Cost, Courtenay Evans and Todd Carter have communicated to myself and the other volunteers for our work, as well as the emails I’ve received in the past few days from volunteers who really enjoyed their first shift and are already looking forward to going back, is exciting. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such an incredible group of people.”

Language Tutoring at the International School

Madison House volunteers also are forging a thriving partnership with the International School of Charlottesville, a language-immersion school that offers instruction in French and Spanish for preschool to kindergarten-aged children. 

U.Va. students work with teachers in small classroom settings, where they help model conversation and assist children in other speaking activities and free play. Only the target language may be spoken in the mornings, but participants may speak English in the afternoons and during afterschool programs, where the student volunteers help facilitate games and activities.

Students must already be fluent in either French or Spanish to participate. The new partnership has brought in 25 U.Va. students to help teach the school’s 120 children.

“I've been very excited about the turnout of volunteers,” third-year site leader Julia Tolbert said.  “I've also been very happy to see everything come together for this fall, and both the teachers and students are very appreciative of the extra hands in the classroom. I look forward to having even more volunteers in the spring semester and to seeing the site grow.”

Supporting Sustainable Living at Casa Alma

Madison House has organized a new partnership with Casa Alma, a non-profit organization  that provides housing and community support to families in need. As a transitional living community, Casa Alma hosts a sustainable micro-farm – complete with vegetable garden, beehives, chickens and baby goats – to help it manage expenses and to help residents learn to live simply. 

Over the course of the year, volunteers help the Casa Alma community create garden beds, plant and harvest vegetables and tend to the farm’s animals, explained fourth-year student and site leader Kate Hergenroeder. Additional work may include helping with the construction of small houses and general landscaping.

Ten U.Va. students volunteer at Casa Alma for a few hours every Friday. “[The program directors] really like the idea that we are regular volunteers, who return every week,” Hergenroeder said. “We are becoming familiar with the farm and its components, and so they are really taking the time to teach us certain techniques, such as how to identify certain plants or what care is necessary to keep a given plant alive.”

 “Volunteering through Madison House has been such a large part of my experience at U.Va.,” said Hergenroeder, who spent the previous three years volunteering through Madison House with the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. “I took the lead on this site because I was eager to get involved more directly with Madison House and to help give other students the opportunity to experience and enjoy volunteering the way I have.” 

In 44 years of existence, Madison House has seen students give more than 3 million service hours. The group, an independent non-profit organization, provides more than 110,000 hours of service every year, valued at more than $2.5 million. 

For information on partnering with Madison House, visit its website.

by Lauren Jones

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