While William & Mary’s students are away, one might assume that the Student Affairs staff plays. But the division’s 120 employees instead took advantage of a student-free campus this week to do some work elsewhere: the Williamsburg community.
The diverse offices that make up Student Affairs joined together Wednesday to help with service projects in the community as part of the division’s Renewal Day, a twice yearly retreat for the group. The staff members assisted with a range of activities -- from helping children with art projects to sorting chew toys for animals -- at 11 local agencies and non-profits, including Head Start, The Heritage Humane Society, Grove Christian Outreach Center and Dream Catchers.
This is the second time that Renewal Day has included a service component, with the first time being about five years ago. Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler said that there were a number of reasons Student Affairs decided to conduct service projects, including having the chance to be involved in the community as a division.
“It also gives us a chance to experience both the educational and direct-service aspects of civic engagement, the way our students experience it – how they begin by studying local issues, and then come to recognize themselves as agents of change where there’s community need. Today is a time for us to understand better that aspect of the student experience,” she said. “The other reason is for team-building and bonding. We have an opportunity as people with common interests to go out into the community together, to get to know each other in different settings, and to be a team, doing something that matters.”
The Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship, which is part of Student Affairs, organized the service opportunities for the division. Before the volunteers left for their respective work sites, Drew Stelljes, director of community engagement, provided his Student Affairs colleagues with a brief history of service and service-learning in higher education and shared the stories of a few exceptional, service-minded students at William & Mary.
“Lots of students come to William and Mary ready to change the world. I love that,” he said. “Not sure any of us really know how to accomplish the task -- it’s a big one – but, after many years of observing the enthusiasm, I must admit I am glad to be a spectator.”
The Student Affairs staff members found themselves experiencing some of that same enthusiasm themselves when they arrived at their respective work sites.
In Mattey’s Garden at Matthew Whaley Elementary School, Linda Hicks found herself doing something that she loves: gardening.
“I’m glad I got put into this group because I love to work outside,” said Hicks, an administrative assistant for Recreational Sports.
Hicks, who has worked at the College since 1984, said she always enjoys Renewal Day.
“It’s an opportunity to meet the new people and to see everybody,” she said. “We don’t usually go to every single staff meeting, so Renewal Day is a chance to see everybody in Student Affairs at least twice a year.”
Evelina Wright, a patient liaison for the Student Health Center, was part of a group that helped out at the United Way by stuffing envelopes with thank you letters for donors.
“It’s fun,” Wright said as she sealed and stacked a set of the envelopes. “We’ve been having fun, sitting here, talking about everything.”
But the day was about more than fun for Wright, who found inspiration in the work she was doing.
“We have people out here just giving back to someone else they don’t know,” Wright said, adding that she was moved by “just knowing that there’s so many people that are willing to help.”
“It feels great, and I’m glad I’m part of this,” she said.
Back on campus, another group of Student Affairs staff members also spent time stuffing envelopes, this time with thank-you letters for military families for the Blue Star Families organization. In another corner of the same room in the Sadler Center, another group of Student Affairs staffers worked on a project for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, creating packets with materials and instructions on how to make rope for home-schooled children.
It was a project that Nedja Wallace, a medical records specialist at the Student Health Center, felt connected to.
“My best friend home-schools so this is something that is close to home,” she said. “I know that a lot of families don’t have an opportunity to go to places like Williamsburg and so I think these packets will allow children to experience making rope, something that they may not be able to do because home-schoolers are everywhere and they don’t have the opportunity to do this stuff.”
In addition to being able to do something that she found meaningful, Wallace said she enjoyed the day because it gave her a chance to meet her Student Affairs colleagues and “put faces with names.”
“I think that it also helps us remember the things that our students are passionate about,” she said, adding that though many William & Mary students enjoy serving abroad, many are also passionate about working in the local community. “I think it helps us remember the things that are important to them so that we can interact with them in a way that’s outside of our own jobs.”
Felicia Brown-Anderson, a staff psychologist at the Counseling Center who also worked on putting together the packets for home school children, said participating in the service project was important to her because it allowed her to feel that she was giving back to the community.
“(Giving back) has always something that’s been important to me, so to be able to do it with colleagues here on campus is always nice,” she said. “Whenever we engage in service projects as a division, it’s always been a nice piece of being part of the William & Mary community.”
Brown-Anderson said that she hopes that the work that Student Affairs did during Renewal Day put “the message out that we’re not just a separate community here on campus, but that this community is part of the larger Williamsburg community and that that’s important to the College.”
“I hope that people are able to see that just because we are here at William & Mary doesn’t mean that this is an isolated community, that we don’t understand the things that are going on in the community around us,” she said.