Before heading to Washington D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine put on a flannel shirt, jeans and boots to work side-by-side with William & Mary students on a Tri-Cities Habitat for Humanity project in Petersburg Monday.
About 20 William & Mary students hung sheetrock alongside Kaine, members of his family and the future owners of the two homes they worked on.
Addressing the crowd before work commenced, Kaine thanked the students for their dedication.
“You guys do great work at William & Mary, civically and especially this connection to Petersburg with the Phoenix Project and William & Mary’s long ties to Richard Bland (College) and this area,” he said. “It’s a really important thing that you do.”
Kaine said that the year he took off from law school to do service work in Honduras was “a real pivotal” year in his life.
“And so I hope that the experiences you’re having at William & Mary, getting out and helping others, will set some good patterns that will last forever,” the governor told the students.
The Habitat project was one of three that William & Mary students helped with in Petersburg on Monday. The two others were organized by the non-profit organizations Pathways and ElderHomes. Altogether, about 40 students were involved in service in Petersburg on Monday. Also assisting with the projects were: Drew Stelljes, director of the Office of Student Volunteer Services; Ginger Ambler, interim vice president for student affairs; Valerie Brown, interim assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs; and Leonard Sledge, assistant director of economic development.
Ambler said she went to Petersburg to “join our students in the spirit of Martin Luther King’s holiday in giving back in a way that we can.” She added that projects like these make the needs of our local community very real to students, “and it also reminds them that they have the power to make a difference, and I think that’s very important,” she said.
The day of service capped off a weekend of “Education for Justice” that was organized for students by the Office of Student Volunteers Services and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.
"Our theme for the weekend was this: On Nov. 4th, history was made," said Stelljes. "This weekend we're learning about the history that made that day possible. Petersburg has a storied past. The city played a pivitol role in the civil rights movement. This weekend we honor that sacrifice."
Brandie Burris, a senior who helped organize and lead the weekend, said that the students toured the city, heard from a Virginia State University professor on the history of Petersburg and attended a Baptist church for the learning portion of the program.
“We learned that students played a great role and they should continue to play a great role in providing social change and social movements. It was really powerful,” she said.
She said that having the governor and his family help with the service projects was also inspiring.
“I think it really says a lot about his commitment to service and I think that’s wonderful that our leader in Virginia has this commitment,” she said. “I think it’s amazing. It’s really inspirational, and I’m really proud.”
Sophomores Jazmine Pina and Tanjir Ahmed said that they signed up for the Petersburg trip so that they could learn more about the area and possible service projects.
“I’ve never been to Petersburg, and I live in Virginia, but I’ve never rally heard much about it,” said Ahmed. “I just decided that it’d be a great opportunity because we don’t have classes today or tomorrow.”
He and Pina said that the historical significance of the weekend – with both Martin Luther King Day and the lead-up to the inauguration – made the experience even more meaningful.
“It just kind of feels really good, especially after this weekend where everything’s changing, said Pina. “You want to see things change for the better so this is helping a family have a really good new year with a new house.”
Dorothy Coleman, a Petersburg resident, will be the owner of one of those new houses, probably by the end of next month.
She said that she was delighted to be working next to all of the people who came out to help, especially Kaine. And, she had a special message for the William & Mary students who brought her one step closer moving in.
“Thank them, thank them, thank them so much,” she said.