Madison House Volunteers Go BIG on Saturday

Students working in a garden at Morven Farm

Students volunteered at Morven Farm, doing a variety of tasks in the educational garden that currently serves as a local food systems laboratory for students and faculty. (Photo by Danielle Loleng, Morven Programs)

It was a big weekend at UVA. On Saturday, the same day the University celebrated the national champion men’s basketball team, hundreds of volunteers organized a day of service.

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More than 200 volunteers spent the day working at one of 29 job sites as part of the fifth annual BIG Event, a one-day event sponsored by Madison House, the independent, nonprofit UVA student volunteer center.

And like the gathering at Scott Stadium, the BIG Event also was a huge success, according to participants and recipients, including UVA second-year student Julia Mitchell, who led the event’s marketing efforts.

Although University students regularly spend time on community service throughout the year, working through Madison House and other programs, the annual event brings out a concentrated group effort every spring. Started in 2015, it’s one day when students come together to express their gratitude for the surrounding community and its ongoing support. It takes months of preparation, however.

The Big Event began at Texas A&M University in 1982 when student leaders saw a need to give back to their surrounding community of Bryan-College Station. After 36 years, the BIG Event is held annually at more than 60 universities across the nation.

“Even though everyone was undoubtedly exhausted from the exciting week in Charlottesville, our volunteers worked enthusiastically to get their jobs done and done well,” Mitchell said. “We are all so lucky to have the amazing Charlottesville community, and Saturday gave everyone who participated the opportunity to show our appreciation.”

Students spread out across town to a variety of venues, where they helped spruce up yards and gardens, and helped organizations from the Belmont Arts Collaborative to the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA.

“The BIG Event furthers Madison House’s goal of building partnerships with individuals and organizations throughout the area,” Madison House Executive Director Tim Freilich said. “We are proud to bring hundreds of individuals together in a day of service to build relationships and make tangible differences in the community.”

Tim Freilich standing in front of a group of volunteers talking

Tim Freilich, who became Madison House’s executive director in 2015, was once a student volunteer there and was recognized as “Alum of the Year” in 2005 for his public service work. (Photo by Josephine Chao, Madison House intern)

The event kicked off early Saturday morning with a breakfast and T-shirt giveaway at the John Paul Jones Arena.

The volunteers then fanned out to complete projects at local schools and churches, nonprofit organizations and private homes. Other places where they volunteered included the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Habitat Store.

Students from Catholic Hoos paint furniture at the Belmont Arts Collaborative.

Students from Catholic Hoos paint furniture at the Belmont Arts Collaborative. (Photo by Josephine Chao, Madison House intern)

Students volunteering at the Belmont Arts Collaborative painted chairs, tables and other furniture. The 2,300-square-foot space provides artists and organizations the opportunity to produce work in a dedicated performing arts space that includes a black box theater and three rehearsal studios. The collaborative organization partners with several other nonprofits to make arts participation more accessible.

volunteer wipes down counters at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA

A BIG Event volunteer wipes down counters at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA. (Photo by Josephine Chao, Madison House intern)

Madison House volunteers work months ahead of the spring program to recruit other student groups to join in volunteering for the day. A wide variety of UVA-affiliated clubs and student organizations participated, including Catholic Hoos, Alpha Sigma Phi, Hoos in Treble and the Muslim Students Association, among others.

Student volunteers helped clean up outside a private home

Student volunteers helped clean up outside a private home that Habitat for Humanity is renovating. (Photo by Josephine Chao, Madison House intern)

Madison House serves as the student volunteer center at the University of Virginia. For nearly 50 years, it has coordinated volunteers, developed leaders, built community partnerships and promoted lifelong commitment to volunteering. Madison House organizes service programs to address the needs of the community as well as the educational and personal growth objectives of students.

Mikaela Ruiz-Ramon, works in a garden

Mikaela Ruiz-Ramon, a student leader with the Morven Kitchen Garden program, and Tiffany Pham prep a bed for planting scallions. (Photo by Danielle Loleng, Morven Programs)

Breaking ground in spring 2011, a student-led team first restored Morven Kitchen Garden, which is part of Morven Farm, donated to UVA by the late businessman and philanthropist John W. Kluge. The Morven Kitchen Garden is a productive and educational garden that serves as a local food systems laboratory for students and faculty, including participants in the Morven Summer Institute. The Kitchen Garden offers a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program, in which students and faculty members pay to receive a box of produce each week, dropped off on Grounds.

On Saturday, student volunteers weeded hoophouse beds where lettuce was growing, planted kale, and prepped and mulched other planting beds.


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