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MBA students in the business of giving back

  • Bread Day
    Bread Day  MBA students helped to unpack bread and other food items at the Grove Christian Outreach Center. Soon, families and individuals in need would be arriving and volunteers would disperse bread, produce, meat, fish, beverages and clothing.  Photo by Megan Shearin
  • Weed control
    Weed control  Students mulched and weeded the beds around the historic “Free Black” homes at Freedom Park and set the concrete for the “Pavilion of Caring” at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  Photo by Laura Householder
  • Bull run
    Bull run  Students at Dream Catchers pretended to be “bulls” for the kids to chase as they rode on their horses. Later students had to “muck” the stables.  Photo by Beth McCall
  • Digging up weeds
    Digging up weeds  Over at the Jamestown Settlement, students pulled weeds and mulched.  Photo by Amy Blackburn
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Nick Skantz stood on the weather-beaten grey steps of the Grove Christian Outreach Center located on Route 60. After four years as an undergrad, he thought he knew the Williamsburg area, at least the hot spots for students and the restaurants. But he had never been in an environment like this before.

“I never knew about this place, but I’m impressed with how much they do with the community,” Skantz said on a warm Wednesday morning. He was one of 112 students from the Mason School of Business Full-Time MBA Program who traded in business attire for T-shirts and shorts to participate in a day of giving back to the community on Aug. 15.

MBA Coordinator Julie Hummel has been organizing the service component of orientation for the past four years. This year, students were broken into smaller groups and were involved in seven projects, including Dream Catchers, Habitat ReStore, York River State Park and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

“Our goal is to make this experience meaningful and we want our students to develop a sense of contributing to the improvement of society,” she said.  

Skantz and his peers huddled outside the double-wide trailer that is home to the Outreach Center. The 1,300-square-foot facility may be small, but is well utilized. In 2011, the organization distributed nearly 500,000 pounds of food, recorded over 17,000 volunteer hours and served more than 2,000 disadvantaged individuals in James City County who have registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Each Wednesday, the Bread & More program takes place at the Outreach Center. Long before the distribution took place, students began to haul fold-up tables from a shed and set up large canopies in the parking lot outside, which would provide shade for both the volunteers and the people they would be helping. A long, single-file line – student after student – emerged from a makeshift chapel at the end of the building with box after heaping box of fruit, vegetables and baked goods. To the side of the main area, students folded clothes and sorted through household items.

Local community members started to trickle in with donated items and the students eagerly helped them unload. In less than an hour, families and individuals in need would be arriving and volunteers would disperse bread, produce, meat, fish, beverages and clothing.

Local resident Sandra Jones, 67, has been coming to Bread Day for the past five years. She said the agency helps to supplement her income and cuts down on her grocery bill.

“It would be devastating if this place were to leave the community because so many people are depending on it,” she said.

Rik Rikkola, an Executive Partner with the School of Business, has been involved with Grove Christian Outreach for more than a decade. 

The agency has an annual cash budget of around $86,000, according to Rikkola. “But the input into the community is really in the realm of $1 million when you take into account the volunteer hours, the food, clothes and hygiene supplies,” he said.

As part of the community service event, students are asked to reflect on their experience. Northern Virginia resident Cary Gilmore is new to the Williamsburg area. She said that if it hadn’t been for the student community day, she probably wouldn’t have discovered Grove Christian Outreach. 

“It’s not something I think about on a daily basis,” she said. “I came to focus on my MBA, not community hours.

“But I’m definitely glad I’m out here.  It makes me think – how much does one person really need?”

International student Azure Shen, from China, said that people from her country think of America as rich. Business equals money and prosperity. But for Shen, becoming rich isn’t just about learning the leadership skills to be successful, she said. 

“You should also have a good heart, too.”