By ELISABETH DELLAROVA
It is important that UMW students be actively involved in the Fredericksburg community. Community engagement is an experience that impacts not only the students, but the community, in a positive way. Involved, compassionate students create a good reputation for the rest of the student body. Local residents, nonprofits, and businesses can teach students things that professors and administrators cannot.
The UMW administration has recently been emphasizing the importance of community engagement. It is part of President Paino’s ASPIRE initiative, a list of principles and values for the UMW community. UMW’s Center for Community Engagement will officially launch in the spring, and there is a new Community Engagement designation for courses that require students to serve, work in, or study the local area.
UMW’s student-run community service board, Community Outreach and Resources (COAR) has existed since 1990. COAR runs a variety of weekly volunteer programs in and around Fredericksburg. COAR’s mission includes “serving community needs through an active exchange of service and learning while continually striving to find solutions to problems that challenge the community.”
Jordan Chandler, a senior geography major, co-leads a program through COAR. She takes a group of UMW students once a week to Hazelwild Farm to volunteer at a therapeutic horseback riding program. At the program, the UMW students assist riders with physical or mental disabilities. Chandler has been leading the program since her freshman year. “I have gained a lot of experience working with different people, respect for those in the UMW community, and friendships with other students,” said Chandler.
Chandler once took a geography class where the students spent time studying the local community. “As a student, it is important to make connections in the community since the community supports our school so much. Local residents are the ones who live next to students and we want to make a good impression of the school, as well as who the student body is.”
The benefits of local involvement to students include networking opportunities. Whether it is through service, a job or an internship, relationships can be formed with community members or organizations. “Once we are finished with school, the local community has a lot of career opportunities, so you want to be involved to start making connections,” said Chandler.
Students who participate in the community through service often have a better understanding of the issues that face Fredericksburg, and a greater appreciation for city service projects. I volunteer at the Thurman Brisben Center, a shelter for people facing homelessness. Going there once a week really puts my own problems into perspective and helps build my compassion for members of the local community.
Sophomore Hunter Christianson is a YoungLife leader at a local high school. He leads a weekly club for the students of the school. “We have a calling to serve,” said Christianson. “I’ve learned to appreciate the community and put others before me.”
This semester, I am completing an internship for my honors service project at Downtown Greens, a small Fredericksburg nonprofit, Downtown Greens is a community greenspace that offers gardening and farming programs for children and adults. At Downtown Greens, I am primarily helping with fundraising efforts through social media and events. I work with a variety of interesting people, including some longtime Fredericksburg residents. From talking and working with them, I have learned about the history of not only Downtown Greens, but the neighborhood that surrounds it. I have also learned some of the names and faces of local business owners.
Because of this experience I have become more connected with my neighbors in the Fredericksburg community, and I think all UMW students should take advantage of the service opportunities the city has to offer.