Rolling up their sleeves to serve

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September 1, 2011

10:55 PM

Weeds have begun to grow around the plants that elementary students cultivated at Matthew Whaley Elementary School last year. The lilies in the pond are overgrown and the herbs that once spiced up the cafeteria meals have withered away.

With only gloves, some determination and a break from orientation, four freshmen and transfer students hacked at the weeds and planted seeds in Mattey’s Garden on Tuesday to prepare for the elementary school students’ return.

Four were among the 200 students who volunteered on Students Helping Out Williamsburg Day on August 23, sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship. Freshmen and transfer students are encouraged to participate in SHOW Day to learn about the volunteer organizations on campus and to meet other incoming students.

“It helps new students meet each other and gives them a good environment to meet people in,” said site leader Sarah Holko ‘13.

Stephanie Wraith ’15 took a break from orientation to paint the pavilion that graces the front entrance to Mattey’s Garden. Wraith said that she looked forward to SHOW Day and a break from the strict schedule of orientation.

“At some point in orientation, you hit information overload,” Wraith said, “so it’s nice to take a break and do something to help the community.”

The pavilion received a fresh coat of paint as Wraith and Catalina Benech ’15 worked diligently to revive the garden for the incoming students.

Community service was a connecting thread for Wraith and Benech — both had volunteered previously with Habitat for Humanity. They said that they hoped to continue community service in college.

“Service is something I know you can’t only study in a classroom, so you have to get actively involved on your own,” Benech said.

For the first time, participants in SHOW Day were allowed to choose their projects for the day from the 12 projects provided. Students were able to travel to York River State Park, to the YMCA Child Development Center and even to the Williamsburg Botanical Gardens for service projects.

“It was the first year we added a place on the registration forms for students to be able to choose their project,” said Coordinator for Student and Community Engagement Kristina Snader. “It really helped us get closer to the part of SHOW Day’s mission of wanting students to get interested and involved in community service beyond the day. They’re more likely to do that if they’re doing something they’re interested in.”

Projects were directed by upperclassmen leaders who are actively involved in community service organizations around campus.

“A lot of the SHOW Day’s success can be attributed to our amazing upper-class leaders who volunteered to lead our projects,” Snader said.

Before beginning work in the garden, the group went on a tour led by master gardeners who work year-round to keep the garden in good condition.

The master gardeners explained that the children use the garden as a learning space. First-graders participate in Seeds of Learning, a literature and gardening program hosted by the James City County Master Gardeners, while third-fourth- and fifth-graders use the garden to learn and prepare for their science Standards of Learning.

The garden also produces vegetables and herbs which are used in the cafeteria at the elementary school.

“They actively use the herbs here at the cafeteria,” said AmeriCorp Vista for the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship Chelsea Estacona. “It’s not just a pretty place but a garden that they can actually use.”

During SHOW Day, Estacona planted beans for the upcoming school year. Students at Matthew Whaley try dishes with the herbs from the garden on a monthly basis and even learn how to compost properly.

“It’s great to see a small school trying to take initiative with healthy eating,” said David Lee ‘15.

Although the earthquake briefly interrupted the planting, the students continued to prepare the garden for the elementary school students.

For many of the volunteers, service had been a part of their past that they hoped to continue. With service projects covering a range of issues on SHOW Day, students became involved in the community outside of the College of William and Mary.

“I volunteered all throughout high school, so I felt that this would be a great way to continue serving,” Lee said. “Today, seeing this small school trying to take initiative in healthy eating is inspiring.”

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