Before today if you asked me to help construct a bed, I would have brought my hammer, screwdriver and superman duvet cover. Little did I know that I would use a circle hoe, wheelbarrow, and my bare hands in constructing a raised bed at Piedmont Virginia Community College Community (PVCC) community garden, a new volunteering site at Madison House.

Recently I packed my well-worn sneakers, grabbed a water bottle, and traveled out in the crisp fall air to PVCC and experienced the great work Madison House volunteers do each week at the community garden; did I mention that this was my first time gardening let alone playing with dirt? My adventure started with tutorials from David Lerman, a counselor, PVCC Garden Club advisor, and Community Partner for the site. David taught the volunteers how to properly use a circle hoe, which is used to weed garden beds, and how to rake in soil. A few minutes into the task, I felt like I was in a completely separate space, distant from the grounds of UVa. There I was, gardening and bonding with UVA and PVCC students, surrounded by the orange and red foliage in the clean mountain air, together growing food for those most in need in our community. I felt renewed and a fresh sense of commitment to the mission of the PVCC community garden.

Piedmont Community Garden

Yousaf joins volunteers weeding at the Piedmont Community Garden.

Madison House facilitates the indirect benefit of connecting University of Virginia students with PVCC students, many of whom are in the midst of transferring to 4-year universities, including U.Va. While spreading mulch I had the pleasure of speaking with Theresa, a PVCC student studying graphic design, and Louis, a UVA first-year studying engineering. Through the shared experience of gardening, PVCC students involved with the Garden Club like Theresa get to talk to and interact with U.Va. students involved with Madison House like Louis; these interactions bring the PVCC and UVA communities together and help both groups of students put a face to a new community that they wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise.

Madison House students volunteer for a number of reasons, from gaining a sense of altruism, to learning a professional skill to enhancing their academic experience. For Louis, the reasons were all of the above.  Hailing from Fairfax, Virginia, Louis chose to volunteer at the community garden because of his deep passion for farming and self-sustained community living. Furthermore, Louis plans to study either mechanical or electrical engineering and desires to gain work experience at a local farm to further his learning in the classroom. Students like Louis are what keep Madison House moving forward in student volunteerism; his passion for giving up his time to garden and help others only motivates me to do my best in advising and supporting student servant leaders.

At the end of the volunteering shift, I walked away from my experience with a clear mind, an appreciation for our students and community partners as well as a deepened affirmation that this program is serving a need in our community while sowing the seeds of lifelong volunteerism in our students.

Yousaf Sajid joined the Madison House staff in summer of 2011. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 2010 with a degree in Cognitive Science. While at the University, Yousaf spent his time as a Madison House volunteer, Program Director and Head Program Director for the English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

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