William & Mary

Honoring King by sharing hope

  • Community Day:
    Community Day:  W&M students select toys and other goods to create care bags for children who are served through Colonial CASA.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
  • Community Day:
    Community Day:  In addition to the toys and other goodies seen here, the students also included hand-made cards in the care bags.  Photo by Justin K. Thomas
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Students create care bags for abused and neglected children during MLK community day

Sitting at a table piled high with Play-Doh, Matchbox cars, puzzles and books, Terelle Robinson ’17 turned a piece of construction paper into a message of hope for an abused or neglected child.

“It takes a dream to get started, desire to keep going and determination to finish,” Robinson wrote inside the card before decorating its cover with star stickers and inserting it into a Ziploc bag filled with toys and other goodies.

The care bag was one of several dozen created by William & Mary students Tuesday morning in the Jamestown Road office of Colonial CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The project was part of the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Day, organized by the Office of Community Engagement, during which students engaged in learning and service around the topics of hunger, housing, community health and youth services. Approximately 40 students divided into four groups participated, with each group working with two local community partner organizations.

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Robinson co-led the group that focused on youth services with Kim Green ’14, fellow for education programs in OCE. In addition to working with Colonial CASA, the students in that group also served with James City County Parks and Recreation before returning to campus to reflect on and share what they had learned.

“There are many benefits to college students working in the community around them,” said Green. “We have our little tight-knit community at William & Mary — a really strong, solid community — and I think it’s very powerful when students take a look outside of campus and realize that there’s work to be done in the larger community.”

After arriving at Colonial CASA Tuesday morning, the students — freshmen and seniors — heard about the organization’s history and purpose from Program Director Victoria Canady.

“We train volunteers here so that they can advocate for children who have been abused and neglected,” Canady told the students. “The purpose or our end goal is to, as much as possible, keep the family intact as well as make sure the children are in a safe and permanent environment because without that safety, without that permanency, it begins to affect every area of their lives — socially, academically, behaviorally, psychologically and emotionally.”

The nonprofit organization, which works with families in Williamsburg, York County, James City County and Poquoson, currently has 16 advocates who are helping 33 children, generally between the ages of 5 and 11. However, Colonial CASA has served up to 200 children at a time, Canady said.

Kim Green '14 (right) and Sarah Walker '20 (left) sort items for the care bags. (Photo by Justin K. Thomas)Although students with Kappa Alpha Theta work with Colonial CASA as part of the sorority’s philanthropy initiatives, Tuesday was the first time a group from OCE has partnered with the organization, Canady said, adding that she is encouraged to see young people learning more about the community.

“A lot of times, if you’re not involved and aware of abuse and neglect, you don’t know it’s going on, and I believe it helps with empathy and sympathy,” she said. “… So I think it’s just really important for as young as we can on an appropriate level to have people understand what’s happening in their own community to help them as they move forward to better the community.”

Additionally, students working with Colonial CASA bring a unique outlook to the organization, Canady said.

“When you do something for so long, you just believe that’s how it’s done and sometimes having a fresh perspective and a fresh voice can change everything,” she said. “… They are a culture, and they are diverse, and if we can get what they do and how they live and what they know and fuse it into what we do, it helps us to even better serve the youth that we’re working with.”

Sarah Walker, a freshman from Massachusetts, signed up for the community day project because she has an interest in working with kids as well as education and equality, she said.

“I just made a bag for a 12-year-old boy, and I was never a 12-year-old boy so it was interesting trying to figure out what he wanted,” Walker said. “But it was nice and I hope that when he gets it, it will help him feel just a little bit better.”

By participating in the project, Walker hoped she had made some small impact on the Williamsburg community.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot from them just being here for a couple of months, so I’m really excited to give back,” she said.

Robinson, a public policy major, signed up to lead the trip because of his interest in working as a public servant, he said, adding that the topic of the project spoke to his own story a bit.

“My heart kind of goes out to the children who are in need,” Robinson said. “It speaks to me a lot so this is just a great way to give back.”

Even though he and the other students weren’t able to deliver the care bags or cards themselves, Robinson said there was joy in creating them.

“I won’t get to see it, but I think the most rewarding part of it is knowing that someone young is going to get an inspirational card, whether or not they know who it’s from, just so they know that somebody’s actually thinking about them and believes in them and really cares,” Robinson said. “When you are at a young age, you realize anything that someone gives you, it just brings so much joy, so I’m just really happy they’re going to get these cards.”

Green said that service seemed like an especially appropriate way of honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“I watched a video recently that said that a day for MLK should be a day not just off, it should be a day on when you do the work,” Green said. “You get the time off so you can get on it and do service for the community, so I think any service in general is just the very essence of what Martin Luther King would want us to do.”