Four walls, rows of desks or tables, a chalkboard: These represent a traditional classroom. This fall, Mary Baldwin students will redefine their learning environment by considering community service at area shelters, arts centers, and at non-profit organizations as part of the college’s growing effort to educate students about community service and citizenship in addition to academic pursuits.
“It’s exciting to be on campus when students are becoming more engaged and concerned about the larger human community,” said Assistant Professor of Communication Bruce Dorries, co-chair of the college’s Community Service Learning Task Force. Dorries’ own interest in community service heightened while in graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation about how volunteers at a local soup kitchen communicated about service activities. Dorries is also the co-author ofService-Learning in Communication Studies, a book on integrating volunteerism into academic courses.
To highlight the college’s commitment to community service, the college task force created a speaker series this fall featuring leaders from local service organizations. The Community Service Speaker Series will be at 1 p.m. each Wednesday through mid-November. Representatives from organizations such as the Valley Mission (a homeless shelter in Staunton), the local chapter of the Red Cross, the Staunton-Augusta Arts Center, and Project Horizon (a shelter for abused adults in Lexington) will share their personal stories of involvement and offer ways the college community can contribute.
The goal of the series is to keep community service high on the college’s agenda and to introduce local organizations to the pool of students interested in service, said Mary Baldwin task force co-chair and Professor of Philosophy Roderic Owen.
Community service and citizenship have long been part of a Mary Baldwin University education. Freshmen are required to volunteer several hours as part of some Introduction to College course and campus chapters of service organizations such as Circle K and Habitat for Humanity have historically been strong. Also, many professors include service activities in their classes. The college’s 10-year strategic plan places renewed emphasis in two areas of the community service initiative: encouraging every student to participate in meaningful community service as part of her Mary Baldwin University tenure and creating a central office or point of contact to coordinate community service efforts campus-wide.
“There are enough individual and group community service efforts on campus now that the college is at a point where it needs to coordinate those activities,” Owen said. The college hopes to create a community service center, which would field calls from interested organizations looking for volunteers, keep track of service hours, handle promotion and fundraising to support community service, and ensure that groups are not duplicating efforts.
In a report completed last year, the task force estimated that members of the college participate in 13,000 hours of community service annually. But college officials say there is room for strengthening community ties and increasing volunteer time.
Bryanne Moore ’05 is one of many students who attest to the transformative experience of volunteer work. During May Term 2004, Moore and her classmates worked for several weeks with the City of Staunton Department of Recreation and Parks and the Department of Horticulture as a requirement for Sociology 288: Community Service and Society with Assistant Professor of Sociology Carey Usher. Staunton City Council plans to recognize the students’ work at an upcoming meeting, Usher said.
“I will look at my volunteering efforts in a different way now,” Moore said. “I realized that my actions continue to make a difference beyond the few hours that I’m actually out there working.”
In addition to courses that focus on service, students also take their own initiative or partner with national service organizations. Student Government Association President Victoria TenBroeck ’05 was proud to add a community service pledge this year to the duties of the SGA executive committee. “We encourage the Mary Baldwin community to join us in our efforts,” the pledge reads.
Susannah Baskervill, a 2004 graduate, made local headlines when she turned a scholarly project — the college’s Margarett Kable Russell Award — into a grassroots effort. Baskervill worked with students in a local after-school program to teach gardening and botany basics. Together, they planted a vegetable garden in the heart of Staunton.
Sophomore Meeta Desai volunteered with Circle K during her first year on campus. She supports efforts to incorporate community service learning into the general curriculum.
“I think students should be required to volunteer before they graduate because it’s a great experience,” Desai said. “Above all, you might make a difference in someone else’s life.”
— Dawn Medley, assistant director of communication, contributed to the article
The Community Service Speaker Series, 1 p.m. in Grafton Library room 501:
- Sept. 15 —Janet Cleveland, executive director for CASA (child advocacy organization); Helen Burke, executive director of Valley Mission (homeless shelter)
- Sept. 22 — Mark Hackley, coordinator for outreach at the Blue Ridge Food Bank; Sandy Greene, education specialist, environmental education for the local Soil and Water Conservation District
- Sept. 29 — Nancy Dowdy, executive director of the United Way of Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro; Jack Belcher, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Blue Ridge
- Oct. 6 — Apple Day: Mary Baldwin community service activities to be announced
- Oct. 13 — Danica Jamison, executive director of the Staunton/Augusta Art Center; Amanda Nicholson, Director/Educator for Rehabilitation, Wildlife Center of Virginia
- Oct. 20 — Tara Sullivan, sexual assault and outreach services coordinator for New Directions Center; Elyse Richardson Barnard, director for Project Horizon (shelter for abused adults in Lexington)
- Oct. 27 — Rhonda Howdyshell, executive director, Habitat for Humanity; Jerelyn Anderson, supervisor for support services at People Places
- November visits to be announced