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"It's been hard work, but it's been really rewarding knowing that I can make a difference just by donating my time and my energy to somebody in need," said Lauren Jones '14.
The afternoon of work for the Campus Kitchen at William & Mary was part of a new pre-orientation program introduced by the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship (OCES) this year. The "7Generations" service trip program offered 18 new freshmen and transfer students a chance to study and work on social justice issues as well as get to know other students before they officially begin their College careers. The title comes from an Iroquois proverb that implores people to consider the impact of their actions on the next seven generations before making a decision.
"We developed 7Generations to introduce incoming students to the culture of service at William & Mary, and to help them engage critically with an important social issue through study of the issue, direct service, reflection and learning how to integrate their experience into their time at William & Mary," said Melody Porter, associate director of OCES.
Three trips - all focusing on different community issues -- were offered through the program. One group traveled to Richmond to help with Camp Baker, a camp for people with disabilities. Another group worked on a nonprofit urban farm in Lynchburg. The final group worked with the Campus Kitchen at William & Mary.
"While each of our three trips addresses diverse issues -- hunger in our communities, sustainable food systems and people with disabilities -- each issue is deeply affected by poverty and inequality, so our VISTAs (Roshan Patel, Allison Anoll and Andy Runyan) trained 7Generations participants on what poverty is and how it plays out in communities, in addition to background on their particular issue and trip," said Porter. "Participants then get the chance to put their education into practice by through hands-on service with strong community organizations around Virginia."
Runyan, AmeriCorps VISTA for Campus Kitchens at William & Mary, said his group - which also worked in the College's Campus Garden, Grove Christian Outreach Center and Richmond's Tricycle Gardens -- engaged in great discussions about the issues, spurred by the days' experiences and research, including articles on the topic of hunger.
"We learned about how everything is connected with food and how that can affect everything from childhood obesity to the economics of our time," he said.
Runyan said he hopes the week gave the students a broader view of the community they are about to join.
"I just really hope that they pop that William & Mary bubble a little bit so that they can go outside of campus and know that there are real people here, too, beyond the tourists," he said.
Jones said that the week was difficult at times, especially when she saw the faces of hunger.
"But I think you need to see things like that every once and a while to get a reality check and know that a lot of us are really blessed to have what we do," she said.
While the new students learned about the issue of hunger they also learned some things about their soon-to-be alma mater.
"I'm learning that William & Mary is a school that has a great service and volunteer record," said Jones. "We hear everywhere we go basically about students who have volunteered in a food banks or instituted a program like our campus garden."
Zac Reeves '14 said he has learned more about the layout of the campus and service opportunities available in the area. And in the midst of all the learning, he also made some great friends.
"I'm already thinking that these are going to be some of my closest friends right here," he said.
Porter said that they have been very impressed by the program's participants.
"Already, we've seen that we have a thoughtful, curious, spunky and energetic incoming class," she said.
"Our participants are ready to take their understanding of community engagement to a deeper level, and are forging strong bonds with each other and their new community in the process. We're excited for what this generation of leaders in community engagement will go on to do in their years at William & Mary."