As a varsity cheerleader, fourth-year University of Virginia student Avery Rocke knows how to get the fans pumped up. As a Madison House volunteer with the PB&J Fund, she knows how to wield a kitchen knife and help children stay safe while fixing healthy foods.
Beyond the fun she has in these activities, Rocke, a foreign affairs major, has gained valuable skills and experience that have helped her in her post-graduation job search.
Many of those experiences have come through Madison House, the student volunteer center at UVA. For the second year, Rocke, who grew up in Clifton, is serving as the head program director of PLAY, one of many volunteer programs at Madison House. PLAY oversees after-school activities for children with six partner organizations, including the PB&J Fund, Boys & Girls Clubs, community centers and nature-oriented program sites such as Wildrock in Crozet. UVA student volunteers serve as mentors and role models while helping children with homework and playing games.
Rocke appreciates the “tangible impact” that Madison House programs make, she said.
When she started going to the PB&J Fund, a nonprofit organization in downtown Charlottesville that teaches children about cooking, as a first-year student, Rocke hadn’t had much experience with children. But the staff was so passionate that the experience was delightful and stimulating, she said.
“The kids are learning valuable skills and learning about healthy eating choices. The staff members give great recipe ideas that you can make at home,” she said. After the group fixes something, everyone eats together, and the children even help with the dishes, she said.
In addition to her weekly session at the PB&J Fund, Rocke mobilizes and oversees six program directors and 40 to 80 student-volunteers in the PLAY program. She ensures the sites have enough volunteers and that the program directors have enough resources for the volunteers to offer engaging activities.
The continuity of the volunteers showing up each week helps earn the trust of the youth and build relationships, which she called “really special.”
“When you show them you’re there for them, they show you how delightful they are,” Rocke said.
Just as Madison House volunteers act as ambassadors for UVA, cheerleaders are ambassadors for the University in a different arena. With both the Madison House program and the cheerleading team, Rocke has forged deeper connections with the University and the local community, she said.
“I’ve been able to meet people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “Through these two avenues, I get to do things I love and that are fulfilling.”
Although Rocke was part of an all-star cheerleading team in high school, she didn’t try out for the cheer squad in her first year at UVA, preferring to spend her time getting acclimated to college. She missed it so much, however, that she joined the all-female squad her second year. They cheer at football games and women’s basketball games, mostly at home. (UVA also has a coed team that cheers at football and men’s basketball games.)
Kelley Haney, the spirit coordinator for the cheerleading and dance teams, said Rocke’s “fantastic personality” comes through in her interactions with the public. Her social skills are top-notch, Haney said.
One of Rocke’s most memorable moments came when she went up in the stands to wish a Wahoo fan who turned 91 a happy birthday, she said.
She loves looking up at the fans, stoking their spirit and being part of it all, she said.
Plus, all that tumbling, the stunts and conditioning 12 hours a week are really good exercise. Their coach, Leanne Higgins, is also a personal trainer. Rocke, who also works at Ragged Mountain Running, loves the discipline, as well as the team-oriented emphasis, she said.
Making a human pyramid, for example, is the epitome of teamwork and physical precision, Rocke said. If everyone doesn’t do her part, they all fall down.
“It requires everyone to work together,” she said.
Her leadership and teamwork experiences both on the cheerleading squad and at Madison House made the difference in securing a job after graduation, Rocke said.
Working on Capitol Hill probably didn’t hurt either. Last summer, Rocke interned with Darrell Issa, a Republican Congressman from California’s 49th district. She talked with constituents on the phone, gave tours of the Capitol and ran signature pages for votes in the tunnels between offices and the House floor.
After she graduates, she’ll work for Deloitte in the Federal Human Capital division, helping agencies manage their most important resources: people. It’s a job that will require excellent people skills, teamwork and experience coordinating many different groups and logistics – all things Rocke has already proved she does very well.