New organization leads freshmen in early service trips

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August 30, 2010

10:36 PM

Orientation started early for 18 freshmen and transfer students dedicated to serving the community.

The first week of August marked the inaugural run of 7Generations, a pre-orientation service project started by the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship to help engage new students in service projects designed to meet the needs of the surrounding area.

“We realized that incoming students could benefit from and enjoy being a part of a program that exposes them to the broader community that they will now call home,” Associate Director of OCES Melody Porter said.

At the suggestion of Andy Runyan, Americorps volunteer in service to America for Campus Kitchens at the College of William and Mary, the program was named for an Iroquois proverb that says, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

New students were divided across three project areas focusing on specific community needs. Some found themselves involved with Campus Kitchens at the College, addressing hunger and food systems in the community, while others traveled to Lynchburg Grows, a non-profit urban farm in Lynchburg, Va. that promotes sustainable food production. A final group went to Camp Baker, a camp in Richmond that caters to children with disabilities.

Sidney Coates ’14 became interested in the Camp Baker initiative after reading an orientation e-mail about 7Generations earlier in the summer.

“I wanted to get out of my hometown of Lynchburg, Va., at least once [during] the summer and do something fun and productive,” Coates said. “I also thought it was a great opportunity to get a jump start on meeting new people and getting involved with OCES.”

Coates joined her trip leaders and six freshmen for four days at Camp Baker, where she spent her time playing games, sharing meals and doing crafts with the children.

“My time at Camp Baker made me truly realize the importance of treating people with disabilities as people with disabilities, rather than [as] disabled people,” Coates said.

The program coordinators gave every student a pre- and post-event survey to gauge their understanding of social issues and community engagement.

“We saw some significant increases in those areas, and that made us proud,” Porter said.

Porter noted one particular post-event survey in which a student wrote about a social issue that she said greatly affects both her home community and the community in Williamsburg.

“We were so pleased with how interested the participants were in learning about the social issues their trip addressed, seeing the connections to poverty in Williamsburg and their home communities, and how they left with energy and a community of fellow incoming students with whom they could continue the good work they started,” Porter said. “It was a really fun and gratifying week for us to be with so many passionate, challenging and whip-smart people.”

Aside from doing hours of volunteer work, 7Generations students engaged in discussions and did research on the scope of poverty, inequality and food sustainability. Program coordinators said they hoped that through a combination of education and hands-on volunteer work, the new students would gain a broader view of the community they were joining.

“It is very easy to fall into routine and theory while being a student, but doing a service project like 7Generations before [setting] foot into a classroom provides motivation, perspective and a framework to build off of,” Runyan said. “I really believe 7Generations is the springboard for many of these students to become committed, civic-minded individuals.”

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