Gaurav Jagani and Chirag Patel both graduated from the University of Virginia this weekend, but they’re staying in town for a few weeks to finish a commitment that has spanned their time at the University. Along with medical student Nirav Patel, Gaurav and Chirag coach a U-10 soccer team called C27 with SOCA – Soccer Organization of Charlottesville Albemarle. They’ve consistently made this team a priority, returning for games during breaks and attending tournaments – even when they landed on exam week.
“A couple of my friends were in the SOCA program before I came in,” says Gaurav. “I’d go to their games and practices and see how much fun they were having. I knew I wanted to do this throughout my duration here. That’s how I became involved with Madison House.” Chirag’s story is similar. He cites watching Gaurav force himself to wake up for Saturday games as part of what sparked his interest. Neither Gaurav nor Chirag were avid soccer players. Chirag played lacrosse in high school, and some middle school soccer, but their enthusiasm and dedication to their team has made a tremendous impact – an impact noted by parents and opposing coaches.
“The C27 team – centered on the Johnson Elementary School neighborhood – has presented these young men with the distinct challenge of knitting together boys (and in one recent season, also a girl) from extremely diverse and in some cases severely disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Russell Miller, one of the C27 parents. “Their players have included the children of recent immigrants from Latin America, Africa, South-East Asia, China and Iraq. Often these players’ parents speak very little English, requiring the coaches and players to navigate significant cultural and language barriers to communicate on simple issues like practice schedules and game-times. A number of the players – no matter their background – have difficulties with attention and behavior. Throughout all of this these coaches have been gentle but disciplined with their players.”
“If I didn’t coach my own kids, I would go out of my way to have these three coach them,” said Doug Trout, an opposing coach. “I was impressed by them the very first time I met them and coached against them. They don’t take things too seriously and yet promote great sportsmanship and camaraderie. Their teams are always really good. They know soccer but that’s not what makes them great. Their congeniality, maturity, and approach not just to soccer but to life are exceptional.”
The guys are proud of the growth they’ve seen in their team. “The way we approach practices is that we practice one individual skill at each practice – not to overwhelm them,” says Gaurav. “During the games we’re just making substitutions now. We could sit on the other sideline and just watch them play and they could handle themselves. They’re that disciplined and mature.”
Coaching the team has also been a learning experience for them. “It definitely showed me another part of Charlottesville,” said Chirag. “We have a player we’ve had for the past two years. He was six when he started with us. He was really quiet, but we’ve watched him grow up. He’s still one of the youngest players on the team, but he’s one of the best, and he has a bigger mouth!”
“I’ve learned patience,” says Gaurav. “I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. In the end that is what matters, the skills you develop and the relationships you make with kids and parents.”
As coaches Gaurav, Chirag, and Nirav’s focus has been on their player’s attitudes, but the team has also done well. C27 was undefeated going into this weekend’s regular season finale.
I heard about Madison House before I even came to UVA. I had two older cousins, Taylor and Hunter, who went to UVA, and when they were trying to sell me on coming to this school, they talked to me about Madison House. Taylor was a Recreational Therapy volunteer who helped kids swim who had physical disabilities. Hunter was a Big Sibling. Every time he comes back in town to visit, he calls his Little Sibling and they make time to hang out. They are still close and regularly keep in touch. My cousins’ stories, and the fact that Madison House was a major part of their college experience, speaks volumes about the importance of Madison House in the lives of UVA students and Charlottesville residents.
Madison House has been a part of my life since the first few weeks of my first year. Amidst the craziness of the Activities Fair, I took refuge in the smiling and welcoming faces at the Madison House table. After perusing through the 19 different program areas, I signed up for the Holiday Sharing program. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Holiday Sharing is a program that works with the Salvation Army and pledges to find sponsors and donors to support over 100 local families during the holiday season. After all the hard work that we do during the fall semester to recruit sponsors and solicit donations, we have Distribution Day. It’s one day during December where we invite all 100 families to Madison House to pick up their food and gifts, complete with cookie decorating, a cappella serenades, and Santa himself. Holiday Sharing became something more than a weekly obligation. I’ve gotten to know some incredible people—fellow passionate volunteers, the Madison House staff, and most importantly, members of the greater Charlottesville community. I’ve seen little kids sit on Santa’s lap and read their hand written letters to him out loud. I’ve heard a mother cry on the phone because we simply asked her if she wanted any presents of her own. I’ve watched in awe as hundreds of people walk through Madison House’s door to deliver food and gifts, just to make a stranger’s holiday season a little brighter. Throughout my four years, I have been a part of recruiting over 400 sponsors for over 400 local families and I am consistently amazed by everyone’s generosity. It is a privilege to see the Charlottesville community come together to support one another. Each year, I’m reminded of the true spirit of giving and the pure joy that the season can bring.
Through my time at Madison House, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most amazing mentors and leaders, specifically through the Madison House staff. Elizabeth, who always makes time to listen to me, even if she’s way too busy with her own work. Yousaf, who bought the Holiday Sharing PDs snacks from Trader Joes to give us energy when we stayed up until 2 am the night before Distribution Day. Jennifer, whose energy, costumes, and hilarious videos inspire volunteers on a daily basis. Anna, who always greets me genuinely every time I walk into Madison House. Julie, who took the time out of her busy schedule to work with the Holiday Sharing team to give us better ways to reach out to local businesses to ask for donations. Ben, who I’ve worked with since first year on Madison House communications and who is always willing to listen to my theories about life. The people who make Madison House run on a daily basis are some of the best you’ll ever meet and it would not be the same without them.
So many people talk about the issue of the UVA Bubble. When you’re on Grounds as a student, it can start to feel pretty insular and the distance between UVA students and Charlottesville residents seems vast. But Madison House is breaking the UVA Bubble every day. Every week, we send thousands of students out into the Charlottesville community to not just provide a service, but to form relationships. It’s the third year that spends time playing checkers with her grandparent in a nursing home through the Adopt-a-Grandparent program. Or the first year that wakes up early on a Friday morning to volunteer at a pre-school. Or the second year that coaches a middle school basketball team so he can share his love of sports with others. Or the fourth year that’s worked with the same young boy in Bridging the Gap for three years and now regularly eats meals with his family. It’s true stories like these that make Madison House so special. Madison House creates opportunities for students to learn from others outside of the classroom and off of Grounds—their experiences at Madison House help them to learn about compassion, about dedication, about leadership, and about themselves.
Words cannot fully express the impact that Madison House has had on my time at UVA. I had my first leadership experience at Madison House as a Program Director for Holiday Sharing. I learned about Communications from Ben, who gave me my first writing gig on the Madison House blog and who taught me about bringing Madison House into the world of social media. And, as a student, I had the phenomenal opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors of a non-profit. There are not many people my age that can have that experience, and it had a formative impact on my development and awareness as a volunteer and as a leader. This is really a speech of gratitude—thank you to the staff, the Board, the fellow PDs, the volunteers, and especially, our generous donors. Without you, none of these things would have been possible. Thank you so much to those people that have made my four years here, and for many other students like me, so meaningful.
How did you become a volunteer with your Madison House program?
Why did you chose your program?
Tell us your best, funniest, or most educational experience as a Madison House volunteer.
by Yousaf Sajid ’10
Taxes. Most Americans dread doing them, but a group of Madison House volunteers loves preparing them. The Creating Assets, Savings and Hope (CASH) program empowers volunteers to prepare taxes for low-income Charlottesville/Albemarle citizens and U.Va. employees free of charge, allowing members of the local community to fully recover their income tax credit while avoiding tax preparation fees. In the 2011 tax year CASH volunteers prepared over 1,600 returns for an estimated $987,000 in economic impact.
As with all Madison House programs, CASH is completely student run from recruiting and selecting volunteers to extensive tax training to providing managerial support on-site. Head Program Director David Aramony spends his time managing the many moving pieces of this program, and has learned a lot about volunteer coordination, leadership and, of course, tax code. “I have learned more from leading CASH than anything else. In reality, we are students trusted with an incredible amount of personal information – so security, ethical standards, and confidentiality are vital.” says David. “Scheduling, tracking, and training all of these volunteers is both a challenge and a triumph. In fact, it seems to defy one’s physical capabilities which is why working as a team has become so important and will continue to be vital for success.” David’s team consists of 10 student Program Directors, staff advisement from Madison House, and support from the community partner, United Way Thomas Jefferson Area.
One would think filing taxes and computing deductions would scare away student volunteers, in fact, the opposite is true. Hundreds of U.Va. students apply to CASH with about 80 accepted this past year. Next year CASH plans to expand volunteering spots by working at the U.Va. Hospital site in addition to UVa Human Resources and the Friendship Court neighborhood site. Students are attracted to the program not only for the pre-professional skill set that it offers, but also for the rewarding experience of giving back to the community in a very direct and tangible way. “My favorite client though came in this year, he was in a very unfortunate life situation yet he lit the site up. When he got a large refund from a relatively challenging return he hung around offering to bake us cookies and do whatever he could as a thank you. His son’s birthday was the next day and he planned to use the refund to buy him the IPAD he had been begging for all year.” Stories like these speak to the heart of the program; bridging the University and Charlottesville/Albemarle community and giving back to the people that make this town the best place to live in.
The Madison House Alumni Council has recognized Colleen Laurence with the 2013 Alumni of the Year Award. Her devotion to helping others, be they people or animals, has continued well past her 2007 graduation from U.Va.
A Foreign Affairs and Studies of Women and Gender double major, Colleen was devoted to service activities during her undergraduate years at U.Va. She was a dedicated Madison House volunteer and a Pet Pals Program Director. According to Colleen, “I really loved the responsibility that Madison House entrusted in us as program directors – from recruitment and volunteer training to cultivating new volunteer opportunities and meeting with community partners. I don’t think I fully appreciated that facet of the program till I started working with other organizations and realized the liberty that we had. That freedom, or emphasis on student self-governance, cultivated a unique sense of responsibility and made both the programs and volunteers themselves stronger and more intrepid.” In addition to being a Madison House leader, Colleen led trips through Alternative Spring Break and was also involved with the Young Women Leaders Program.
Upon graduating, Colleen was a field organizer for the Global AIDS Alliance. After that, she joined the Peace Corps, first serving as a Health Education Volunteer in Mauritania, and then as a Public Health Volunteer in Rwanda. During her first assignment, Colleen worked with local secondary school students to create a peer health education group and with local healthcare providers to organize in-service trainings to advance their professional needs. In Rwanda, she switched her focus to work on improving data management and analysis practices and water and sanitation infrastructure in her district’s clinics. Colleen recently returned to Charlottesville and now volunteers at the Charlottesville Free Health Clinic, reinforcing her desire to work with low resource populations when she finishes medical school.
Of course, Colleen has not forgotten her Madison House roots. Just recently, she fostered a cat from the same SPCA where her Pet Pals volunteering began!
I became interested in the Madison House programs when I first started at UVA, but it wasn’t until I was a 4th year that I realized there were programs I could participate in that fit with my schedule.
I chose to be part of the Big Siblings Program after seeing some of my friends’ experiences with the program. I like that I am able to be a constant influence in a child’s life and that I get to know her well, and not just barely get to know a larger group of people like many of the other programs.
As a Big Sibling, my five-year-old little sibling has taught me a lot. The funniest thing I learned recently, is that if you don’t scream enough in a day, then you feel like you have to clear your throat. She showed me, for the next five minutes, exactly how to scream so that you don’t have to clear your throat.
What is one thing you’d like readers to know about your program?
The Big Sibling Program is a great program to get involved with. It is incredibly fulfilling to see the difference you make in a child’s life.
Stephanie Maxwell, a fourth year majoring in computer science, started volunteering at Madison House last August. She also made an appearance in “Inspector Gadget visits Washington D.C.” when she was five years old.
When I joined the Madison House Board in 2011, I knew very little about how Madison House operated. I worked in Facilities Management at the University for over thirty years and was familiar with some of the volunteer work performed by Madison House. But, I had no idea of the scale of involvement, the far reach in the community, or the engagement and passion of the student volunteers. In my two years serving on the Board, I have met some amazing students with bright futures who truly believe in the power of volunteerism. These student volunteers are the unsung heroes in our community, giving of their time and incredible energy, asking for no recognition.
There are many unique and distinguishing aspects of the University of Virginia. The Academical Village, a World Heritage site, is still used as Jefferson originally intended. The University is also consistently ranked highly among public universities. Finally, University students and staff of Madison House provide unparalleled volunteer service to the surrounding community.
During the last 30 years working in Facilities Management at the University of Virginia, I have seen many changes and significant growth on Grounds. The Medical Center expanded its hospital and clinical services; the University continued to lead in more research initiatives; and finally, the true lifeblood of the community, the student body, increased in both size and diversity. It has been exciting to be a part of this growth and to have the opportunity to meet and work with so many talented people. However, contributing to the unique mission of service and leadership at Madison House has been especially gratifying. Thank you, Madison House.
By Desiree Davis
The DC kickoff event for the Madison House Alumni Network was unforgettable.
Metro DC alumni woke up that day to cold temperatures and fast winds. In fact, MHAN organizers planned backup events in case alumni showed up at Long Bridge Park begging to go indoors. Council members also brought hot beverages to keep people caffeinated and warm for what looked to be a very frigid morning. Upon gathering the two-dozen alumni together to ask them if they wanted to proceed, we were thrilled attendees were determined to follow through with the event’s mission.
And in the first 15 minutes they showed off that determination—
- A couple sprinted off-path to grab floating plastic bags even as wind hit them head on (we kid not)
- Someone brought a self-made spear to more easily grab deeply-rooted garbage particles (we salute such efforts)
- A group of volunteers veered off path to wade into a thicket of branches to collect hundreds of abandoned bottles and cans (exhibit A: the pictures)
For over an hour, the group circled Army Navy Drive and Crystal Drive cleaning up everything in its path – no item was too big, too dirty or too weird. Alumni and friends who had not known each other at all teamed up to grab items, using trash and recycling bags. The high that day was 34 degrees and yet 25 people showed up to help out their community. We collected and sorted 16 bags of trash and 14 bags of recycling.
And it would not be a UVA event without a combination of both work and play.
Afterwards, the group headed over to Good Stuff Eatery, a DC burger and shakes staple, to celebrate the morning’s accomplishment, and to defrost. Everyone left quite full and very excited about both the network and the upcoming events. The key requests? Warmer weather…and more trash.
by Jennifer Walker
“Chess is not for timid souls”
Student Program Director Gregory Dorsey is anything but timid. Talking with him, you’d think he won the lottery. His enthusiasm and constant energy are unparalleled. He possesses an overall love for life, but he gets really excited about sharing chess with others, specifically elementary school children. Gregory is one of Madison House’s newest Program Directors for ACES (Active Chess Enrichment for Students) site.
Gregory started playing chess in elementary school and was taught by his father, but his passion for the game came alive when his rival middle school challenged his school to a tournament. Unfortunately, Gregory’s school didn’t have a chess team. Teachers asked who knew how to play, quickly formed an impromptu team, and accepted the school’s challenge. This was the springboard for Gregory’s dedication to the game of chess.
At U.Va. Gregory saw a poster for a Chess Club event featuring local Nate Szejniuk whose brainchild was a chess outreach program at local elementary schools. Gregory quickly got involved and has seen ACES expand to 10 elementary schools around Charlottesville, become a 501-C3, and serve over 180 local children. Typical volunteer sessions include a snack, the instruction or “focus of the day”, and time for the kids to play against each other.
This year ACES became a new site through Madison House. “Madison House has allowed us to start more sites throughout Charlottesville because of the Madison House volunteers,” says Gregory. “The Madison House volunteers have helped teach many values and skills to the elementary school students including self-control, sportsmanship, behavioral and mind development, and the ability to focus.” If Gregory’s goals are fulfilled, in a few years, there will be 40 Madison House volunteers involved with ACES and every elementary school in Charlottesville City and Albemarle County will have a chess program.
For more information about ACES (Active Chess Enrichment for Students), please visit their website at http://www.playingaceschess.org/.