From Dawn to Dusk: U.Va. Volunteers Address Community Needs

September 22, 2006

Sept. 22, 2006 -- University of Virginia volunteers were out in force on Wednesday, Sept. 20, making rescue squad runs, clearing trails, painting cabins, spending time with senior citizens— all to make the community a better place.

More than 1,000 U.Va. volunteers participated in  the 15th annual United Way Lawrence E. Richardson Day of Caring. The University’s Community Relations Office coordinated with United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area on academic employees' participation, and Medical Center employee participation was directed by the Community Relations, Outreach and Services Office.
Their motives varied, from giving back to the community to having a team-building exercise with other people from their workplace.

“I prefer this to doing the ropes course and jumping out of trees,” said Virginia Carter, who was painting a map of the world on the asphalt of the outdoor basketball courts at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School.

“It’s a good break and a good cause,” Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia M. Lampkin said as she painted Bolivia on an outline of South America. “It helps take our minds off things for a few hours.”

Mark Fletcher agreed.

“It’s hard to beat this for a day to be outside,” said the Director of Intramural-Recreational Sports as he dug a hole for a trail marker at the Ivy Creek Natural area under clear skies and 70-degree weather. “There are no e-mails or news bulletins or faxes.”

Fletcher, in a sentiment shared by many of the volunteers, said the Day of Caring was an “opportunity to give back to the community that gives so much to us.”

“We were having discussions with our son about community service,” said Jolene Kidd, assistant to the chairman of the Department of Pharmacology. Kidd and her husband, Michael, volunteered at the Ivy Creek Natural Area where they uprooted a stand of Asiatic Bittersweet, an invasive plant species that was overwhelming a portion of the grounds.

“We couldn’t do this without volunteers,” said Ivy Creek Director Dede Smith, who praised the U.Va. volunteers as very enthusiastic and highly skilled.

Camp Albemarle also benefited, with about 38 volunteers painting four cabins, cleaning out bathrooms and cleaning up the grounds. The camp, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is used as an open-air environmental field laboratory and as a site for family reunions and wedding receptions. About 1,000 fourth-graders in county public schools use the camp each year introduce them to nature, by studying trees, shrubs and grasses, as well as examining the water in the Moorman’s River, which runs next to the camp and feeds into the South Fork Rivanna River Reservior.

Wayne Knight, chairman of the camp’s maintenance committee, said the volunteers’ contribution to getting the camp spruced up was phenomenal.

“They can do in an hour what would take us weeks to do,” Knight said.

 Other volunteers helped people in a more direct way. The Exceptional Assistant’s Network, which draws its membership from every department at the University, organized and presented an ice cream social for residents at Morningside assisted living facility. At the end of the workday, representatives from the School of Law and the Department of U.Va. Finance under the Health System , as well as five student volunteers from the Curry School of Education, worked with handicapped children on their golf skills.

“It makes [the seniors] happy,” said Anna Rugo, who works for the associate vice president for business operations. “They love having people to visit them, they love having someone listen to their stories.”

About 30 residents sat in a common room, while volunteers scooped ice cream and made sundaes, while Morningside Activities Director Thomas Parker play piano and sang songs the residents recognized.

“They make us feel like we are not shut off from the rest of the world,” said Adam Arakas, a Morningside resident.

The network brings volunteers to Morningside about three times a year, said volunteer Carey Shirk, who works at Student Financial Services. “Having fun again makes a huge difference for them,” she said.

“We live with volunteers,” said Gene Arnold, area 3 coordinator for the Special Olympics. He depends on volunteers to work with Special Olympians during their eight-week training program. The number of volunteers who show up each week varies, he said.

“This is a nice turnout because everyone can get one-on-one attention,” he said, surveying the golfers at Birdwood.

He said this is the second year in a row his agency has benefited from the Day of Caring.
And at the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad, U.Va. volunteers were touching lives by helping to save them. A volunteer organization anyway, the rescue squad is staffed 24 hours a day. U.Va. employees who are also members of the rescue squad agreed to take over the day shifts of the regular volunteers, to give them some extra time.

“There is nothing better than to be endorsed by your employer to do something you already care about,” said Ashleigh Edwards, who works at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Edwards, who first joined the squad while a student at U.Va., said working a different shift than she usually works gives her a new perspective on volunteering.

“It takes a lot of effort,” said Ron Williams, who teaches engineering and who organized the U.Va. volunteers for this project. The call volume has increased considerably in the past five years, he said, making the shifts busier for the squad members.

The U.Va. squad volunteers were busy on Wednesday. They arrived to begin their 6:30 a.m. shift and were called immediately to a tractor-trailer accident on Route 64, followed by a structure fire in Scottsville, Va., in the morning and a medical emergency at Newcomb Hall about noon. Their shift ended at 5:30 p.m.