William and Mary

Community Engagement & Service

Newbies step up

April 2, 2014 by

The MANOS students had reason for concerns about language proficiency and depth for the annual project trip.  Two of our most talented and experienced teammates would not make the trip.  Lester Chavez ’14 (8 trips) and Kristina Ripley ’15 (2 trips), both native Spanish speakers and both deeply knowledgeable about our research, methods, and theory, were missed for their talents — and for their companionship. MANOS students with “advanced” speaking abilities were asked to step up and to step into more active roles in focus group interviews and community meetings.  Johnathan (“J$”) Maza ’15 (5 trips) and Kristin Giordano ’14 (5 trips), in particular, assumed lead speaking roles and made especially significant contributions to team efforts.  Chrissy Sherman ’14 (8 trips), Brooke (aka “Bruce”) Huffman ’15 (4 trips), Roni Nagle ’15 (4 trips), Tommy (“Mad Dog”) Northrup ’16 (3 trips), Ambika Babbar ’14 (3 trips), Steph (aka “Baywatch”) Wraith ’15 (4 trips), Emily Mahoney ’15 (2 trips), and Zander (aka “TZ”) Pelligrino ’15 (4 trips) pushed themselves to engage more actively as speakers and translators, and the result was that we had more language abilities in play than in any previous project work.  (My opinion; my teammates past and present may or may not agree.)  And, our newest team members, especially Quetzabel (“Q”) Benavides ’16 (2nd trip), Michelle Betancourt ’17 (1), both native Spanish speakers, moved seamlessly into very demanding roles in both interviewing and facilitating community meetings. Sarah (aka “SB”) Martin ’17 (1 trip) and “Quesa” Diya Uthappa ’17 (1) waded into the mix to provide both sound note-taking (in Spanish) and comments and questions in the course of meetings and interviews. In all, it was a very strong showing.

J$ Maza struggled against his comfort zone to meet team needs for communications — not just proficient Spanish but engaged, deliberative, inviting exchange that brought participants fully into important and consequential conversations.  Reminiscent of James Bond’s provisioner, our very own “Q” was a marvel of invention and innovation, particularly adept with the turn of phrase and metaphor — and remarkably steady in facilitating the participation and inclusion of Chaguite residents.

What to say of this intrepid, rowdy bunch of public health and participatory development research wonks?  They are not easily discouraged; they don’t whine; they bend to the work at hand; they rise above the challenges; and they stay focused on systematic knowledge and respectful partnering to promote change.  There was not much drama in this year’s work.  Given the challenges of logistics, the demands of the work, the difficulty of living with 18 or so other people 24-hours per day, and the complexity of the issues we attempt to understand and manage, that says a hell of a lot!  Somehow, Baywatch and her assembly of collaborators managed to set up and operate daily clinics in multiple locations, only one of which is intended for use as a medical clinic.  The daily setup and striking, by all accounts, were seamless.  FOMO Sherman was everywhere, responding to the needs of the work even before the rest of us knew that there were needs.  Kristin Giordano proved herself again to be a “thoughtful watcher,” keenly aware of details in exchanges, unfailing in her attention to human and cultural matters — even as she took on significant responsibilities as a lead speaker.  We have been fortunate throughout the project to have at least one team member whose deep concerns for respectful partnering, whose cultural awareness and sensitivity shine a bright light on what we say and do as guests in another country and community.  Kristin has been superb in this role.

As always, there is more to say:  ”Dog bites man.”  ”Mountain bruises car.”  ”Earthquake compounds travel difficulties.”  These might have been (and still might be) headlines for blog posts.  The countless contributions of every member of the team deserve to be spotlighted, but fortunately for all of us, we don’t do this for recognition.  The satisfaction comes from learning and from careful, methodical efforts to test the value of what we learn in advancing authentic partnerships for change.

Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can

March 31, 2014 by

Arthur Ashe, one of the first African-American tennis players, spoke these words –”Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can” – as an activist.  At a one-day, personal development seminar held at William & Mary on the 16th, Ashe’s words nicely summarized what we students had learned that day and how simply each of us could become a catalyst—a catalyst for improving our personal lives or a catalyst for improving the world around us.

Catalyst-LogoThe Catalyst program, designed for students interested in challenging themselves to go deeper, wider, and further out in their definition of who they are and where they can have an impact, was sponsored by the Office of Student Leadership Development.  As a student assistant in the Office of Community Engagement, I spoke with the Director, Drew Stelljes, prior to the event.  He was very enthusiastic about it and encouraged me it would be worthwhile, saying:

“The new OSLD has aligned its mission with the William & Mary vision.  Theory based, the OSLD is well on its way to becoming a national model for student leadership development.  As our W&M vision statement aspires for our graduates to change the world, the OSLD is a mechanism to prepare students to do just that.  We aspire to establish a campus culture where students examine their talents and joys and use them to address the world’s greatest needs.  There is no better place than W&M to cultivate in students an intense desire to emerge as engaged citizens and effective leaders.”

After a  statement like that, what W&M student wouldn’t go?  The seminar featured a great speaker, Arthur Gregg, from the University of Texas.  There were introspective questions such as, “Am I becoming the person I want to be?” and sapient quotes like Andre Gide’s words, “It’s better to fail at your own life than succeed at someone else’s.”  Mr. Gregg spoke about the importance of active listening and appreciative inquiry when interacting with people, authenticity and integrity, and teamwork.  He had a felicitous story about teamwork involving a drum major, and ended it by saying, “You can have a band without a drum major, but you can’t have a drum major without a band.”  No matter how talented or driven you are, we all have to rely on others at some point.  This was a good quote for me personally because as a highly conscientious and dominant introvert (personality traits we formally learned about), I prefer to work by myself so that I know things are done correctly and according to my way of thinking.

catalyst-contentAnyone in the business school would have been happy with a second shot at a team-building exercise in which four groups of students worked together to build the tallest free-standing tower that had to hold a golf ball at the top, using only plastic straws and tape.  (We business students had to do a similar exercise using marshmallows and spaghetti).  Besides learning that the compression strength of a series of plastics straws measuring over six feet in length is pretty low, the importance of group communication, group decision making, prototyping, and personality dynamics were reinforced.

As the day came to an end, we began focusing on what we would take away from the seminar.  Leveraging one’s strengths, thinking rationally about what holds us back, and the commitments and contributions we want to make going forward.  Words of wisdom from Aristotle himself, “Criticism is something we can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing,” touched on one of the common answers to what holds one back—fear of criticism and failure, but if we allow our lives to be guided by these constraints, we will accomplish nothing.  Life is a process.  Vulnerability and uncertainty are OK.  Do what you know to be best and true for yourself.

Before everyone parted ways, we were asked to write down what we would take away from the seminar or what we would commit to afterwards.  You might expect me to write what I wrote down, but what I wrote is unimportant.  The words of another student that I had teamed with for some of the activities and discussions were far more inspiring to me.  She said that because she had been in a group with a few older students (Tribe PRIME!) who shared their life experiences, she learned that life may not work out the way you plan.  You will make mistakes.  But, if you have confidence in yourself, in the process and confidence that you’ll figure it out, your life will turn out the way you want.

In retrospect, this was a touching moment for me.  I had shared my personal story with my group and talked about the moment when I was being evicted into homelessness:  I had no idea where I would sleep that night, but despite the feelings of desperation, anxiety, and loneliness, I told myself that I would figure it out because I had confidence in myself despite everything that happened leading up to this moment.  It didn’t happen right away (what happened right away was sleeping in a parking garage, lol), but I did figure it out eventually.  I attended this seminar hoping to take something away from it for myself, but instead I gave up something – wisdom and confidence – to other, younger students who took my advice to heart and will use it as they make their own paths in life.

W&M Alumni Living the W&M Vision – Changing the World

March 28, 2014 by

In this entry, Charlotte Mabon, ’15, serves as guest blogger. Below is her reflection from a recent Community Engagement Lunch Discussion.

2002 William & Mary graduate Abbitt Woodall is now the director of a local non-profit agency called Housing Partnership Inc. Located right in Williamsburg, HPI uses state and local government funds to provide essential housing repair services to low-income families and individuals in the Williamsburg community. These housing services include emergency home repairs, home modifications for persons with disabilities, entire home replacements, as well as indoor plumbing projects. Their clientele mostly consists of individuals and families that are elderly, disabled, and make roughly about $12,000 a year. A major focus of his work though, revolves around a need that most people in the United States take for granted: indoor plumbing. Most individuals may think that in this day and age, adequate and sanitary indoor plumbing is a luxury afforded to all. In the US today over 670,000 US households are in fact, without indoor plumbing.

Access to adequate indoor plumbing is something that not all possess, and this particular problem is right in our backyard. Since they began in 2005, Woodall and the HPI team have repaired over 80 houses in the Greater Williamsburg area that lacked indoor plumbing. Overall, HPI has invested about $3.5 million, with each individual housing repair estimating at $700. But it is important to note that costs can change depending the repairs needed to be done – some repairs may cost less or substantially more. Again, when people think about communities that lack proper indoor plumbing, the mind tends to go to rural, backwoods areas. Though these areas in Virginia are in need of indoor plumbing repairs, Woodall stressed that homes lacking indoor plumbing and proper septic systems can be found in both suburban and urban areas.

Houses in the Williamsburg area that lack indoor plumbing or have poorly constructed septic systems that fail, are built on areas of land with poor soil. Most of the houses HPI repairs include elderly clientele that had service-industry jobs before they retired. But with most service-industry jobs, the ability to afford housing on land with “good” soil is difficult to find at an affordable price – the poorer the soil, the cheaper the property. HPI’s elderly clientele also typically lack the incentives, ability, and finances to move from an older house that may not have the best septic system, to a new one that does. Moving to have a better toilet can remain low on a list filled with other priorities. Even with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, it can still be difficult to get by financially, making housing repairs that much more costly.
Inadequate indoor plumbing is rarely if ever, a hot-topic issue when discussing social injustices. One can argue that there tends to be a hierarchy of social issues, with some receiving more attention than others. This can be caused by the nature of the topic itself, the political charge behind the topic, and social standing of affected communities within a specific social issue. Essentially, it can be difficult to see a problem if one is not faced with it. Most of us have access to both public and private restrooms, and it can be hard to get out and see the sheer size of Williamsburg as a college-student. Williamsburg is a city that extends far beyond the Sunken Garden and The Cheese Shop. But if you take the time and look past the manicured lawns of CW, poverty in Williamsburg does in fact exist. The need is there and as part of the Williamsburg community, it is crucial we recognize our fortunate position to help. If looking for a chance to enable members of the Williamsburg community with better access to an essential need, HPI is the perfect place to start.

Chaguite, Cuje, Clinic

March 24, 2014 by

We have worried about the value of our annual clinic since we first opened the doors in 2007.  We intended NOT to be a duffle-bag medicine project—arriving with U.S.-based notions about what our patients might need and dropping off short-dated medicines in small quantities.  Eight years later, we’re still trying to find ways to make our clinical efforts smarter, better founded, more integrated with local medical and health efforts, truer to the needs of our partners.  We are encouraged by this year’s meeting with Dr. Blanco.  We hope that our evolving relationship with the Totogalpa clinic will allow us to be more strategic and more attuned to needs defined by those who have responsibility for providing health care on a continuing basis.

Our community-based approach inclines us to learn as much as possible from those who live in the communities we intend to serve with health care efforts. Our work in Chaguite has provided us with systematic information and increasing understanding of the health and health care needs of residents of that community.  We know better than to generalize these understandings to residents of the remaining communities that comprise Cuje—the micro-region served by our annual clinic.  We envisioned a Cuje-level Comite de Salud (CdS; Health Committee) that would comprise representatives of residents of each of the communities.  We imagined collecting information from brigadistas in each of the communities and we hoped that we might, through snowball sampling and sociometric techniques, identify such a group as a start for consulting with residents about ways to make our clinic more responsive.

In pursuit of that goal, we reprised our satellite-sites approach to the annual clinic this year.  The objective was to take each day’s clinic as close as possible to the geographic center of the remote communities of Cuje.  Working from those locations, we would dispatch team researchers to conduct interviews with the communities’ brigadistas and with members of randomly selected households to identify community residents who might be (1) interested in participating in discussions about improving the clinic services; (2) trusted to represent residents’ beliefs and needs.  After the first day’s efforts, student researchers reported that there is something wrong with the questions we’re asking or with the respondent-selection process.  Respondents usually were able to identify their community’s brigadistas or other leaders, but they routinely reported that these people did not represent their interests, did not understand their needs, and did not work with them or on their behalf.  We tweaked the questions and the general strategy and tried again the next day.  The results were unchanged.

None of the students on the current MANOS team participated in the first round of interviews in Chaguite.  We were asking very similar questions then—and we got answers very similar to what we are hearing this year in other communities.  That seems nearly impossible to believe now and, seen from our now customary view of collaboration in Chaguite, these other communities seem desperately (1) unfamiliar (because they are) and (2) lacking in social infrastructure (which they may be).  I have the benefit of historical perspective.  I recall residents of Chaguite who were able to identify two or three key leaders (some of whom were brigadistas) — and I remember the same residents saying that they do not work with these leaders and that these leaders do not represent their interests.  I remember the leaders saying that they try to hold community meetings but that residents will not attend and will not collaborate in projects with potential value for the whole community.

This year’s effort to “sample” our way into some rough understanding of the other communities and their social infrastructures was a well-intended effort to find a short-cut for gaining information from residents throughout Cuje.  We want to hear their voices as we think about how our clinic can be more than duffle-bag medicine.  At this moment, it does not appear that there is a short-cut, no substitute for the years of work in the community, on the ground, in the homes, working with good social science methods to learn, using the resulting information and knowledge to build relationships.

Dr. John Showalter (M.D., Knoxville, TN) played a significant role in our follow-up conversation with Dr. Blanco (Totogalpa Clinic Director).  His understanding of our approach and shared frustration with the apparent limited value of our annual clinical efforts were crucial to the discussion.  Speaking medical professional to medical professional, Dr. Showalter was able to convince Dr. Blanco of our determination to be more than another itinerant bunch with good intentions.  We will do all we can to build on this step forward.

Dr. Showalter joined us at the end of the week in two additional meetings, one at a medical school in Managua and the second at the American Nicaraguan Foundation (more on that in a later post).  Through inquiries by Kristina Ripley, we have been in contact with a professor of medicine at this university.  We toured the medical school, talked briefly about our projects in Cuje, and learned about our host’s interests in extending health services to the under-served in Managua.  Dr. Showalter inquired about good strategies for short-term, annual clinical projects and about sources of medicines that would be appropriate for the Cuje population.  His participation in the discussions clearly elevated the seriousness with which are efforts are regarded by this local medical professional.

Baby steps—but they seem to be in a good direction.  We don’t know yet how to make our clinic more responsive and more responsible.  We’ll add more research on brigade and short-term, international clinical approaches to our work for the remainder of the semester and it will top the list of topics for next fall’s seminar.

It’s Not Linear; 2/28/14

March 24, 2014 by

In November 0f 2009, I wrote that SHC was becoming MANOS and that the timing seemed more than incidental.  (And, it happened even before Chrissy Sherman joined the team.)  It seemed clear to me then that the project was evolving from the “service learning” group of 2006 and was finding its way.  The new name, Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship, was in part a proclamation of  vision: to learn, to research, to engage with, to be mindful of presumptions about what we’re doing and how it may be received by those with whom we intend to partner.

In a post dated March 11, 2010, I noted that we would begin this year to focus our community efforts in Chaguite.  We estimated that there are about 40 houses in this community and by the end of the 2010 March trip, we were close to completing interviews in all of the homes.  From the same trip, I described meeting with a local “brigidista.”  His name is Ysidro and it’s clear that he works very hard to care for his family and still finds time to serve in a volunteer capacity that involves “looking after” the health and health care needs of the community.

And so it is 2014, and we keep coming back—now routinely three times each year, in some fashion:  Small teams in January (like the one this year that facilitated community meetings with representatives of our newest partners from the Engineers Without Borders chapter at Cal Poly – Pomona);  the full team each March; and a team of three to eight students in the summers.  The work proceeds—slowly, deliberately, sometimes seemingly as much sideways as forward, but always as fully as possible in step with community partners.  Chrissy Sherman ’14 has traveled to do research in the community eight times, as has Lester Chavez ’14.  Other experienced team members have traveled from three to seven times each and, through that dedication, have developed understandings, appreciations, and real friendships within the community.

We now know the residents of the households in Chaguite, which number about 50.  We have mapped the region, the households, the health problems and assets. We seem to be realizing the vision in our name—and we continue to worry about our presence, our role, our relationships, and our partnership. Through repeated interviews in all households in the community, we have come to know residents and we have learned about their health and healthcare concerns, needs, and priorities.  We learned about the leaders and about interpersonal networks – those groups of people who communicate with one another and collaborate on occasion.  In our earliest interviews, we were struck by the paucity of communications and collaboration even as residents were able to identify “leaders.”  Residents told us that they did not work with leaders and that leaders did not work with them or understand their concerns and needs.  Through Social Networks Analysis (SNA), we identified “organic” networks of communication, groups of residents who do talk together and we encouraged them to meet together and with us to help us to understand the health and healthcare priorities.  They were modest in number, scope, and inclusiveness.

The social networks analysis (SNA) techniques enabled us to calculate measures of “network density” (the proportion of interpersonal connections reported as a proportion of the total possible connections for the respondents).  It is an imperfect method and an imperfect indicator, but SNA measures of network density provide an empirical and quantitative way to gauge communications and collaboration within communities.  In general, there is inadequate research to allow us to estimate what levels of density are “normal” or “typical,” but at a minimum, we can take measures at different points in time and compare these to observe change.  Our first round of research provided a network density estimate of less than two percent – that is, of all the dyadic (two-person) relationships that might exist in the community, less than two percent were reported as existing.

We have been working with these organic groups (which we began calling “regional groups”) for several years now and through communications within and across these groups, have worked with residents to create and authorize a five-year plan to improve health and healthcare.  Through these groups, we have partnered with the community to advance a project with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). We strongly suspect that our next round of SNA research will reveal significant changes in the level of estimated network density.  We believe, further, that network density is crucial to the development of effective social infrastructure – the organizing of resources, activities, and tasks needed for communities to collaborate to build sustainable solutions to shared problems.  We won’t know until we do a second round of systematic research, but it appears that levels of communication and collaboration have increased markedly over the last four years as we have encouraged engagement through the organic networks and participation through these in regular community meetings.  (We’ll be sure to report our findings to Chrissy Sherman no matter where her FOMO efforts may take her next.)

This year, we undertook interviews in households that have not been represented regularly (or at all) in regional group meetings or community meetings.  We are trying to understand how we might make engagement in community-level efforts to improve health more inviting, more accessible.  We were accompanied by community members from the respective regional groups in our hope to engage residents more fully in our research efforts.  The residents were more inclined to chastise those we visited than we preferred and we encouraged a point of view that emphasizes the value for all in increasing participation—particularly in the developing project to provide access to water for everyone in the community.

In a final note:  Chrissy Sherman once drove for approximately 3 seconds in Nicaragua.

Persistence and Partnering. 2/27/14

March 21, 2014 by

The MANOS advance team (Johnathan Maza ’15; 5th project trip); Stephanie Wraith ’15, fourth project trip; Sarah Martin ’17, 1st project trip; and me, 8th project trip) met with Dr. Benito Blanco, Medical Director of the MINSA clinic in Totogalpa, Nicaragua.  We summarized our medical and community efforts over the past seven years in Cuje (micro-region) and the community of Chaguite.  Dr. Blanco expressed appreciation for these efforts—and some mild aggravation about the lack of coordination of our efforts with his office.  He noted that our clinic has been helpful but could be more effective through such coordination.  We agree—and we are encouraged by his perspective.  We’ve been urging that point of view since 2007.  There are several plausible explanations for and possibly contributing factors to the lack of effective partnering to date.  It is likely, for example, that for the first several years the local medical professionals saw no reason to believe that we would keep coming.  There was a different clinic director when we began.  He’s now the mayor of the municipality of Totogalpa.  And, when we began, the region was in a deep drought and even the most meager of resources had dried up.  At that time, we found the clinic woefully under-staffed and with the most minimal medicines and equipment.  There was a “siege” kind of feeling about the operation and the clinic staff seemed more than satisfied for us to do anything—without much consideration of strategic advantages.

The entire region has seen remarkable improvements over the last several years:  more rain, resurgence of flora and fauna following the transformation of the ecology through clear-cutting of the evergreen forests, a relatively stable government, and increased presence and investment of national and international NGOs.  Like the clinic, the mayor’s office, where we met with the Sub-mayor and the General Secretary of Community Cabinets, the facilities were in good repair and had an air of organizational efficiency that clearly was absent when we visited earlier.

It seems likely that these things have contributed most to the current moment for engagements:  (1) Success by Dr. Blanco and his colleagues and staff in gaining and using resources to achieve organizational and professional goals; (2) the increase in NGO presence in the area, leading to a sense of need and possibility for strategic arrangements; and (3) our persistence in returning to the area.

We do not quibble with Dr. Blanco’s view that more can be done through better collaboration. That, essentially, is our mantra.

We met also with officials in the mayor’s office.  We heard a similar message and we embraced that with equal enthusiasm.  We deserve and take no credit for their (seemingly) increased enthusiasm to partner—other than our persistent effort to learn from them how we can best work with them to partner with communities to improve health and health care.  Readiness to partner involves more than one potential participant.  And, in the current era of volunteering, service, service learning, engaged scholarship, action research, and participatory development, it seems necessary to establish proper creds in order to expect authentic discussions about the role that might be played by outsiders.

In Response: One Tribe

March 20, 2014 by

I was linked to this article through Facebook, through mutual friends of mutual friends – there’s always less than seven degrees of separation between W&M and the other schools in Virginia.

After reading it – which I hope you have just done – I had two feelings: sympathy and inspiration. William & Mary does not struggle from a lack of community like George Mason might. I could argue the W&M community is so strong that it’s always there, even when you don’t need it, or don’t want it. I struggle to list examples of times when I felt entirely alone at W&M, when I was not supported by at least one friend or one professor or one random stranger. From long nights in Swem to sunny afternoons in the Sunken Garden, dismissing the feeling of community on campus is ill-advised. It’s an atmosphere – if you can’t feel it, then I suggest you walk around during finals and feel the tension in the air so thick you could slice it like chocolate cake.

Let’s start with our mission statement: “To attract outstanding students from diverse backgrounds…develop a diverse faculty…provide a challenging undergraduate program that encourages creativity, independent thought and intellectual depth, breadth, and curiosity… instill in its students an appreciation for the human condition” – amongst the better excerpts. Until I was writing this, I hadn’t stopped to read our mission statement. My thoughts? We hit the nail on the head, dead on.

But who are we, and where are we going? It’s important to recognize that much of our future is rooted in our history, but we do not limit ourselves to our traditions from the past. Sure, the vision for W&M includes the final construction of the Integrated Science Center and a new “Arts Quarter”. The College is working hard to improve student services, like dining and residence life. Students have made great strides in impacting the community of Williamsburg – Scott Foster recently announced his campaign for re-election to the Williamsburg City Council once his term is up on June 30. As early as 1699, a W&M student expressed, “That the College will help to make the Town, and the Town to make the College…”. Is this how we define our future? Is this what makes us unique? Many other universities have aspirations and plans and strategies, so no – these factors are not what set us apart.

It’s an issue for every member of the W&M community – unlike GMU, most W&M students are not commuters, but is residence really the qualifying factor? What about a “rallying point” – we did get pretty rowdy a few weeks ago with the CAA Championship. Everyone has their own favorite “historical” tradition: Commencement, Yule Log, Charter Day, and Convocation to name a few. What is the deciding factor for community? Mr. Muraca is spot on: people.

Our admission process seeks out the best people. People that, since Thomas Jefferson, have had high emotional intelligence, valued academia, and exercised moral judgment and ethical standards. We identify with each other, we celebrate each other, we impact each other. Each and every one of us is a brick in W&M’s foundation, regardless of whether or not we choose to be. This is who we are – One Tribe, One Family.

 

 

What do people do for you?

March 18, 2014 by

From this week’s volunteer listserv:

Fifteen years ago, I met some good friends through my graduate program. They visited me this weekend from their home in Raleigh, where they tutor a little boy, improve energy efficiency in old buildings, and wrangle and dote on their three lively grandchildren. Over breakfast we discussed the big questions of life, including, “how do you feel most connected to something bigger than you are alone?” For each of us, our first answer was the same – through other people.

I encourage you to take the idea of Ubuntu seriously. (That is, understanding that people are people through other people, in the words of Desmond Tutu.) How do the people around you make you more human, by their implicit requests to be heard and seen? How do the people you avoid make you more human, by calling you to humility and reflection? How do the people you haven’t met yet make you more human, by their proleptic promises to changing your life one day?

This week, I invite you to hear, see, be humble, reflect and eagerly await the ways so many people will transform you.

Because We Care

February 20, 2014 by

On Friday, February 7th, 2014, William & Mary celebrated Charter Day, including honoring Laura Godwin ’14 with the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership.  Laura serves on the executive board of Project Phoenix and is a fixture in the Office of Community Engagement, bringing her joy and commitment to our office and the tutor/mentor program. That’s why no one was surprised when Laura sent out this incredibly sweet and genuine email to Project Phoenix.  It was too good not to share:

Hello!!

I just wanted to send out this email, and tell each of you how grateful I am for you. On Friday, I stood on stage in front of way too many people and received an award that was half the size of me (no joke)…but I sincerely wished that each of you could have been on that stage with me. While Project Phoenix is just one piece of my involvement in the community, it is the one that has allowed me to work closely with other W&M students whom I love dearly. You all embody the heart and soul of what it means to serve a community, and I am in awe of each of you. We all dedicate a significant amount of time to working with our middle schoolers, and I would bet that none of us do it for the recognition; I know I don’t, and I never expected to be recognized for my work, but that would not have been possible without y’all.

I know that sometimes it seems like this program wears us out and stresses us out and drives us crazy. But at the end of the day we all stick with it because we care. I care about our middle schoolers, their well being, and their future. I care about each of you and making sure that y’all feel like you have a purpose and that we are all supporting each other inside and outside of this program. For those of you who were at the first info session we had, I went off on a little tangent about how much I enjoy working with my peers. I am not kidding when I say that I have met some of the best people while working with ProPho. Especially the executive board. I consider each of you a friend, and I am so blessed each time I get to be around y’all. Y’all inspire and encourage me and remind why we do what we do. So thank you. For absolutely everything. Y’all rock!

-Laura

Smile because 2013 happened

February 18, 2014 by

Theodor Seuss Geisel, fondly known as Dr. Seuss, has filled each of our lives with morals and insights that most of us have grown from. As I sit in Swem library and reminisce on my 2013 memories, I would like to introduce this blog with one of my favorite quotes from this creative genius, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Through thought and reflection, this past calendar year has provided my fellow students and me with remarkable experiences. I have been exposed to unimaginable opportunities, introduced to incredible individuals, and challenged myself along the way. In the effort to commemorate this past year, I would like to touch on some special memories that I experienced at W&M.

W&M has visibly grown through enhanced academics and the creation and development of student organizations. Academically, W&M has admitted a diverse and intelligent class of 2017, advanced the W&M DC Summer Institute, and improved various departments. From personal experience, the DC institute has provided me with the opportunity to fulfill GERs and other requirements, while being flexible with my internship and summer schedule. Summer courses offer not only the short-term benefit of knocking out credit hours, but also lightening the load for future semesters. Moving forward to the fall semester, I began my finance degree at the Mason School of Business. This department, among others, has transformed to focus on students’ needs and improve both independent and group work.

Additionally, on-campus student organizations have evolved throughout the 2013 calendar year. The Greek community welcomed an unprecedented number of both sorority and fraternity members, clubs of various interests were formed, and volunteer organizations dominated the campus scene. Two highly influential volunteer organizations I would like to touch on are Camp Kesem and the William & Mary Veterans Writing Project. According to their webpage, Camp Kesem is a “national nonprofit organization that provides free summer camp to children ages 6 to 16 with a parent who has or has had cancer.” The organization has captured the interest of many leaders on campus and looks forward to hosting their first summer camp in 2014. The William & Mary Veterans Writing Project was brought to campus by an ambitious and forward-thinking undergrad. The program provides no-cost writing seminars for veterans, service members, and military family members in the local area. Each of these organizations, among many others, have developed and flourished with the help of W&M’s driven students.

Looking back on the 2013 calendar year, both W&M and its students have grown. We have faced challenges, shared unforgettable experiences, and set expectations high for the 2014 year. Reiterating Dr. Seuss’ quote, there is plenty to smile about over this past year and there are more memories to come.

- Amanda Gunderson