When the tide of parents and children came rushing into Matoaka Elementary School’s Harvest Festival on Saturday afternoon, the volunteers were ready. And though they proudly sported Mataoka Elementary aprons while doing things like helping children throw bean bags through wooden pumpkins and selling frosting-topped cupcakes, most of the volunteers actually call another school home – William & Mary.
Approximately 90 of the College’s students volunteered at
the festival as part of the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship’s
annual Make a Difference Day. More than 200 students participated in this
year’s event, serving at nine different sites throughout the area.
“Make a Difference Day provides an opportunity for students to consider the impact they already have on Williamsburg and then choose to be intentional about that impact by serving our community,” said Elizabeth Miller, coordinator for student and community engagement.
The day “works on the model that the College should work to meet the needs identified by our community by forming partnerships between our students and local organizations,” Miller said. “Students who serve are given the opportunity to learn more about the community while enjoying their service experiences.”
Along with assisting with the festival at Matoaka, volunteers also participated in service projects at the Heritage Humane Society, York River State Park, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Avalon, Community Housing Partners, Dream Catchers, Williamsburg Housing Authority and William & Mary’s own Crim Dell.
Most of the students who participated did so through campus organizations, including sororities, fraternities, and club sports groups.
Freshmen Brianna Buch and Wesley Meyer volunteered at Matoaka Elementary through the Sharpe Community Scholars program.
“Sharpe sends us weekly updates of all the community engagement opportunities available,” said Meyer, as she and Buch prepared to sell baked goods at the festival. “This one looked awesome, so we signed up.”
She added, “It’s helpful living in a dorm where everyone else is doing projects like this and going, so it’s much easier to get involved.”
Buch and Meyer said that overall about 20 Sharpe students volunteered to help out.
“It’s a great program to do and a great way to help the community locally,” said Buch.
Along with Sharpe, members of Kappa Alpha Theta, Beta Theta Pi and Kappa Delta Rho also volunteered at the festival.
“We have a good group of brothers helping out,” said sophomore Gavin Cabbage, a member of Kappa Delta Rho.
Cabbage said the fraternity does several service events throughout the semester.
“It’s important for the Greek life to be giving back to the community,” he said. “We try to do our part.”
Malia Hain was part of a group from Kappa Alpha Theta who worked at the festival along with Beta Theta Pi. She said it was a good opportunity for the sorority and fraternity to “combine efforts to do something for the community around us.”
And it’s an effort that was much appreciated.
Beth Robles, a member of the Matoaka Elementary Harvest Festival committee, said that William & Mary students are vital to the event, which raises money for cultural arts programs and other enrichment activities for students at the elementary school.
“We started a partnership with Make a Difference Day four years ago,” she said. “The fest is five years old this year, and really without William & Mary, it wouldn’t run.”
Robles said that they schedule the festival to occur on Make a Difference Day.
“We need the students out here to really run the fest,” she said. “They work at the games, they greet our guests, they work in the café – they do whatever we need them to do. They are very wonderful giving kids.”
But the school wasn’t the only beneficiary from the day of service.
Miller noted that volunteering at the festival allowed students to “not only have a fun Saturday working with children, but also to consider issues like education inequality and continually decreasing school funding.”
She added, “It's gratifying to see that community partners and students are so eager to work together that I received e-mails weeks before registration opened with requests to participate. Then to hear from students that their experiences were meaningful and enjoyable -- it's great to see that this event truly does make a difference.”