For some of the 200 new freshmen and transfer students who participated, William & Mary’s SHOW Day might best be described as two steps forward in today’s world, one giant step back in time.
Not far from the outdoor Powhatan Indian Village exhibit at the Jamestown Settlement, freshmen Hannah Freeman and Christina Dou methodically worked side-by-side yesterday sewing Yahaka mats to recreate the shell of reed-covered houses once used by Powhatan Indians in 17th-century Virginia.
At the entrance of the settlement, site leader Eric Berry spent the afternoon working beside Eric Post, a native of Southern California, shoveling yards of mulch off a dump truck.
Now in its eighth year, SHOW Day – Students Helping Out Williamsburg – disperses students throughout local organizations to tackle projects such as weeding, mulching, painting and assembling back-to-school packets.
“It’s really a two-person effort,” said Freeman, as she tugged on the jute twine from which Yahaka mats are made. “One person works the left side of the mat; the other works the right.”
Dou, an international student from China, steadily pressed down on her side of the mat. One mistake and the tight weaving could unravel.
The mats, measuring 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, are reconstructed four times per year by staff at the museum. It takes 100 mats to rebuild five houses, known as “yehakins.”
Standing on the bed of the truck, neither Berry nor Post cared about the sweat dripping from their foreheads, or being handed a pitchfork to do manual labor.
“I value community service and like that William & Mary places an emphasis on giving back,” said Post. “I wanted to come to William & Mary because they value what I value; which is helping the community.”
Freshman Katie Bloomfield, of Houston, Texas, gardened for the first time in her life.
“I like being outside,” said Bloomfield. “When I received the email about SHOW Day, it seemed like a good opportunity to meet other students and see what community service projects are offered outside of campus.”
Master gardener Genrose Lashinger, who taught music at the school for 34 years, has volunteered at Mattey’s Garden for the past 12 years. She knows many of the returning William & Mary student volunteers by first name, including senior Nola Liu.
Liu, a double major in biology and kinesiology, did not participate in SHOW Day as a freshman. She contacted Lashinger last year seeking advice on a class project competition to engage in public service. She and her group members wanted to develop a theoretical non-profit organization to address food accessibility obstacles in big cities and small towns.
“I never knew about the school garden program,” said Liu, “and the concept from the school inspired us to create a community garden to combat food desert and provide communities with fresh, local food.
Genrose helped us with the planning and budgeting, and explained gardening techniques to grow vegetables. We’ve developed a really good relationship since then and I’ve grown to love gardening. It's great to be back with the new students for SHOW Day.”
Liu’s group won the competition, and received a $500 stipend. They donated the money to Mattey’s Garden.
“You can learn a lot outside of the classroom; not everything is academic,” said Liu. “A lot of my inspiration has come the College’s community partners and from volunteering in the local community.”