Geoff Johnson’s story began last year and we’re excited to see the next chapter unfold on November 3rd. He has chosen to combine his two loves of running and community service to make a difference in the world around him.
A 2010 graduate of UVA, he served as a Madison House Program Director for Latino and Migrant Aid and volunteer for Big Siblings. Geoff contacted our staff last summer and said that he wanted to run the New York City Marathon and fundraise in honor of Madison House. Sadly, because of the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Sandy, the race was canceled. But in the truest spirit of service and community, Geoff gave his time to help with the clean-up work for residents of New York City hit by the storm. He then chose to run the Richmond marathon 2 weeks later.
This tenacious young alumnus was undeterred by last year’s race cancellation and instead has chosen to raise the stakes this year and run the New York City Marathon for Madison House and the Badlands Sustainability project. He has shared entertaining updates of his training runs along the way with us ranging from running in St. Petersburg, Russia to running 16 miles from his D.C. apartment to his parent’s home in Maryland.
Geoff’s final challenge to us is that we have: One Week to Choose Your Own Adventure!
“Thank you to everyone who has shown such tremendous support for my running and fundraising these past months. I am sincerely and deeply grateful, and know that Madison House and the Badlands Natural History Association are, as well! For those who would still like to share the love, don’t forget that there’s still time to choose your own adventure and support one of their three amazing causes!“
Madison House Friends and Alumni, let’s gather around one of our own and help Geoff write the last chapter of his story and support his run this week! No matter where we are in the world, let’s cheer Geoff on as he runs on Saturday.
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!
Supporters of five Madison House programs are competing to see, who can raise the most money to further the Madison House mission. Big Siblings, Bridging the Gap, CASH, HELP Line, and Holiday Sharing alumni and students are spreading the word about the work each of their programs do. Organizers hope to raise $2,500 in honor of each program for the volunteer center.
Crowd-funding sites by program:
Madison House currently has more than 20,000 alumni around the world. That is a massive alumni presence and a force for good, dedicated to the principle of lifelong volunteering and community service. Lifelong service has been at the core of the Madison House mission since its inauguration in 1970, but as yet, Madison House only exists in Charlottesville, VA. We think that should change.
Last September, at the annual meeting of the Madison House Alumni Council, council members, seeking to extend Madison House’s great work and give back to our generous alumni, created the idea of a Madison House presence outside of Charlottesville. After a year of thought and research, the Council decided to establish a network that would allow Madison House alumni to easily continue the mission of the House in their own cities. We’ve called it the Madison House Alumni Network.
The Network’s mission is to bring the life and resources of Madison House that our alumni cherished at U.Va. to other cities outside Charlottesville. We also hope to draw alumni attention to the current status, successes and needs at Madison House in Charlottesville. The Network was created as a response to the realization that Madison House has done relatively little in the past to engage and give back to its alumni that have given so much during their time at U.Va.
The Network will seek to provide alumni credible local volunteer opportunities, as Madison House does in Charlottesville, and encourage social interaction and conversation among alumni volunteers and Madison House. While still in its pre-launch phase, the Council has built a vision and plan of action. To get this right and provide the resources most needed by our alumni, the Network will initially launch as a pilot program in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in early January 2013. With success, measured by feedback from the alumni involved, the Network will be rolled out to other cities gradually.
The Network will stand on two pillars: 1) an online (or e-) community that provides alumni local service opportunities, relevant to their interests, and related to the current program of the House; and 2) local organizations made up of local leadership that organizes both service and social events for alumni of all ages. We are working with the U.Va. Alumni Association to establish the Madison House Alumni Regional Group of DC. With their help and support, the Network will be able to leverage resources and funds that will allow the Network to host meaningful, fun events in DC, without using any funds used to support Madison House at the University. The Network will also offer an online resource of local opportunities for volunteers in their cities through the current Madison House website. Local volunteer organizations will be sourced and vetted so that alumni know where to find the most Madison House-esque experiences around town and can be connected to current Madison House alumni volunteering with these organizations.
Membership will be free, and enrollment in the Network will be as easy as entering your personal information on the current website. And perhaps the best part: membership is extended to any and all alumni of U.Va., regardless of their involvement with Madison House on grounds. Madison House believes in lifelong volunteering, not just for its House alumni, but for all U.Va. alumni.
So, DC alumni, keep an eye out for updates over the coming months and a big launch after the New Year. Alumni outside of DC – you too will be able to share in the incredible resources that the Network will offer. We are looking forward to seeing you all in the Network!
This time of year always makes me nostalgic for my own college days. Maybe it’s the crisp fall weather and changing colors of the trees on Grounds. Perhaps it’s football season and the anticipation of trick or treaters on the Lawn. But it also might be the fact that I am two months in to my 10th year on staff at Madison House, and there seem to be daily opportunities for reflection and nostalgia.
To honor my 10th year as a part of the Madison House team, I have committed to sharing these reflections on our blog and in our newsletters throughout the year. During both my time as a student at Madison House beginning in the fall of 1995, and during my tenure on staff, I have learned so much. Those lessons seem like a good place to start…
Five things I learned from Madison House as a student that are still true today:
1. Volunteering is good for you.
When I signed up to be a Day Care volunteer through Madison House the fall of my 1st year, I am sure my motivations ranged from the social to the altruistic. That is probably true for most students. But I don’t think I realized until I had been volunteering for awhile just how good it can feel. Taking a break from the busy days and weeks, focusing on the volunteer experience and not just yourself—it’s refreshing, and grounding. As a student, I needed that. And as an adult, I still do. Taking time out to volunteer—and encouraging others to do the same—is a good thing.
Me in my favorite ‘90s rainbow sweater with my fellow Day Care PDs and our staff advisor
2. You can learn just as much outside of the classroom as you can inside.
I used to fret that I was spending too much time in meetings and activities, and not enough time in the library. By about my 3rd year, I stopped worrying about that. While I might not have graduated with the absolute highest GPA, I got an excellent education inside U.Va. classrooms. But outside of the classroom, out in the University and local communities, I learned incredibly valuable lessons as well. I got hands-on experience, and developed real relationships with people in the community. I could apply what I was reading in books and articles out in the ‘real world’ context of my internships, volunteer shifts, and group meetings. Not only has this fact remained true for me throughout graduate school and my professional career thus far, but I believe it to be true for the students we work with today at Madison House and U.Va.
3. Even the strongest student leaders can benefit from staff advisors.
One of my favorite aspects about Madison House is the bond that is built between Program Directors and the staff. The staff that worked here in the late 90s (Cindy, Deb, Dave, Julie, etc.) became my friends, my mentors and my family away from home. I also valued their advice and perspective, and sought it regularly. While I have always been a believer in and proponent of student self-governance, I think it is a sign of a good leader to embrace support and guidance from time to time. When I look back at the almost 10 years of student interactions I have been lucky to have as a staff member, I have tried to maintain a balance between friend and advisor, and to support or challenge when appropriate. It’s also important to be real and authentic with students—they can learn just as much from me when I am stressed or having a bad day as they can when things are ‘sunshine and lollipops’ (our current favorite theme song for Madison House!) I will always treasure the student-staff relationships that I have developed over the years!
The current Madison House staff at our fundraiser last spring
4. Relationships are at the heart of service.
You can find all different kinds of relationships in service: mutually beneficial, transactional, meaningful, and even challenging. But in all relationships, there is a connection that you make with others, and it is incredibly impactful. As a student volunteer, I built relationships with my PDs, my community partners, my peers, and especially the children at my sites. The connections began with listening, observing, and being present during our time together. Over time they grew deeper, and I understood the importance of consistency, accountability, and follow through in service. At Madison House today, developing positive relationships, maintaining good communication and accountability, and understanding the impact of their service are some of the most important lessons that we are still learning, as well as teaching to our students.
5. Your community is more than just where you live.
I probably appreciate this lesson more today than when I was a student. We all define community in different ways, and for different reasons. But in terms of getting involved locally, I think that volunteerism is the ideal way to get to know a community. This summer I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and I commute to Charlottesville daily. What an opportunity that I have now to expand my community! I will always credit my Madison House experiences with opening my eyes and my heart a little wider, and teaching me how to more fully engage.
When did you graduate UVa and what was your major?
I graduated UVa in 2010 with a double major in Foreign Affairs and Spanish.
What program did you do at Madison House and what was your favorite part about volunteering there?
I was involved in three programs at Madison House during my time at UVa: Latino and Migrant Aid (3 years); Big Siblings (3 years); and Abundant Life (1 year). My favorite part about volunteering in these programs was the relationships I established with everyone around me – with persons I tutored, my little sibling, fellow volunteers, program directors and members of the greater Charlottesville community. It was fantastic meeting, working with and learning from all of these wonderful people. It felt like an extension of the warm and welcoming UVa community.
Tell us a bit about your decision to run a marathon!
I was in New York City for last year’s marathon and was literally “moved” by it. The thousands of runners, the exciting atmosphere, and the movement of it all – it was something I knew I had to be a part of the following year. If you’re not up for running the NYC marathon, I highly recommend coming to see it!
What advice would you give to a 1st year volunteer?
As a 1st year volunteer, I remember feeling limited to the grounds and was excited to venture further into Albemarle County to volunteer each week. The greater Charlottesville community has so much to offer. To a 1st year volunteer, I would say reach out to Charlottesville! I can’t emphasize how rewarding it was to connect with the people and places I worked with through Madison House. One of my most memorable moments as a volunteer was attending barbecues at the homes of the people we were tutoring, having good food and drinks in great company.
What is a super fun fact about yourself?
Following some late night grocery shopping, I once drove from Charlottesville to New York City at 2 a.m. with two friends upon spontaneously deciding that the apples at Harris Teeter weren’t big enough. We had a blast in the city for the day, and drove back that same night (with loads of caffeine!).
This weekend the Madison House Alumni Council gathered for its annual meeting. The Alumni Council is made up of 18 talented alumni who give their time to help further Madison House’s mission of leadership, service and community. The Council meets in person once a year to map out goals. It was a fun and productive weekend!
Kyle Rudzinski checks the wiring on a solar panel.
Dawn breaks late high in the Andes. But life in the town of Santa Rosa, Peru still starts early. From weaving alpaca blankets to cooking potato soup for breakfast, residents in this rural town begin every day by the sun, which blazes across a grassy, treeless landscape. Families stay busy throughout the day’s waking hours to stave off chills from a morning frost. And on this winter’s day there’s lots of work to warm hearts; for the first time ever, many will get the gift of light.
Canadian-based nonprofit Light Up the World and Peruvian nonprofit partner Kuyacc Ayni are in town working with locals to install small solar energy systems that provide enough power for two LED lights and one compact fluorescent, or CFL. On this day students from Texas Tech’s Center for Energy Commerce are also in town, assisting with the installations.
Christian Miguel Candela Barra of NonProfit Kuyacc Ayni teaches Texas Tech students how to wire a solar energy system.
Students, Peruvian families, and solar experts work side-by-side throughout the day, but often in the dark. Thatch roofs and adobe walls offer minimal insulation during cold August nights. And without glass, windows would simply be openings for blustery winds. Homes are pitch black throughout the day, making it tough to do household work. The faint light from sheep dung fueled fires fill homes with smoke, harming the health of mothers and children as they go about their days indoors.
Madison House Alum, Kyle Rudzinski works in the dark, connecting an indoor batter. It’s 10 AM and very bright outside but pitch black indoors.
For some families handheld flashlights are an option, but with battery costs hovering around $2.20 USD every week, it’s a costly option. That’s where Light Up the World and Texas Tech come in. Every year Texas Tech partners with Light Up the World on the World Energy Project, an experiential learning, service-based study abroad course. The World Energy Project creates tremendous opportunity for both students and the communities it serves. By paying for a complete solar energy package over time through microfinance, Peruvian families save money by paying less for their system than for batteries; they save time by avoiding the three hour trek to the nearest town to buy expensive batteries; they can be more efficient with high quality light indoors; they can avoid poor indoor air quality by relying on fire less; and they can offer their children an opportunity to pursue education at night. And with an adapter, families can power radios to connect them with their fellow Peruvians.
Life gets busy. So busy sometimes, it seems like there’s just no time for community service. I felt that way earlier and decided it was time to make time for service. Despite ample opportunity as an undergrad to volunteer with service trips like, Alternative Spring Break, I had never traveled for service. So I resolved to spend time working on a clean energy project abroad rather than take a traditional vacation.
After hours of online research I was fortunate enough to serve as a translator on the World Energy Project while learning about solar energy systems, microfinance, and Peruvian culture. And next June I’ll be returning to Peru to lead Texas Tech students on the World Energy Project.
The University and Madison House instill the importance of lifelong service in students. And that tradition of service extends well beyond Grounds. For me, pursuing that tradition led to an incredibly powerful experience and a rewarding opportunity to help people. Your local UVA Club may be partnering with Madison House to hold a service event, or you can simply find something you care about in your community and make a few hours to volunteer. So, if you haven’t thought about service much since you last walked the Lawn, consider building on Virginia’s tradition to serve and get involved.
A light shines in a home in Peru…
Andrew McCormick ’06 was the Head Program Director for Hoos Against Hunger and Homelessness for two years. He and his wife have continued their volunteer service after graduating. We covered some of their efforts in a recent e-newsletter.
My wife, Amanda, and I (Boosters and HAHAH alums!), had a priceless opportunity to spend two months in Cambodia last summer. I had previously spent a lot of time backpacking around Southeast Asia and so I was infinitely excited to revisit such a marvelously unique part of our world. However, rather than just visiting ancient temples and eating deliciously spicy street food, we’d actually be spending most of our time volunteering. So what takes a lawyer and teacher to Cambodia for two months?
An eleven-year old girl.
During a solo backpacking trip to Vietnam, I was solicited by dozens of men offering me little boys and girls. On one of my last nights in Ho Chi Minh City, I was approached by a tiny little girl, who donned an overdose of makeup and a shortage of clothes, who seemed to be the same age as my younger sister.
She asked if I wanted to buy her.
After a failed conversation in broken English, I could only ask her how old she was.
Although I had heard these types of stories before, this little girl was standing right in front of me and this was her reality.
And that can’t happen.
My wife and I were both blessed with the work flexibility to take off for a few months and try to do something about this dark world of sex slavery. Sure, we weren’t going to be changing the world in two months, but helping give a single boy or girl a second chance at life is always worth fighting for. After doing some research about various NGOs, we decided that we’d be spending our summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
I wrote the below blog post after only two days in Phnom Penh. Even now, as we’ve resumed our lives as a securities litigator and special education teacher, our lives will never be the same. And whether it is in Charlottesville or Phnom Penh, that’s often one of the unexpected benefits of volunteer work: you set off to help others, but YOU emerge as a bright, wiser, and kinder person, full of invaluable experiences.
“We’ve now been in Phnom Penh for two days, and along with the endless dust and heat, there has been plenty of heartache.
But more importantly, hope.
We’ve already had the chance to meet the girls we’ll be working with and supporting this summer. Just like any girls, they love giggling, fixing up their hair and nails, and, of course, crushing on boys. However, these girls also carry some very heavy and traumatic burdens from their dark and painful pasts. It is absolutely stunning to see their young smiling faces and to then hear the horrific things they have had to endure during their young lives. Some of these girls are only five or six years old, but have already experienced more trauma and abuse than any person should ever bear.
Fortunately, the organization we’re working with, the She Rescue Home, is doing tremendous things to help give these girls a second chance. There are a number of awesome organizations in Cambodia, including the She Rescue Home, that help rescue and rehabilitate girls who have been trafficked. However, the She Home is also doing incredible things to help girls who are extremely at-risk of ending up in that horrible world. There are so many horror stories out there about young girls who have been stolen and put into brothels and have endured so many terrible hardships. Thus, it is SO important that the She Home is also doing some amazing things to help girls before they have to experience that sort of torment.
One such at-risk population in Cambodia is rape victims. Obviously, rape is a horrendous thing and probably the worst thing a person can endure. Unfortunately, a rape victim in Cambodia isn’t met with sympathy or support, but rather, with scorn, hate, and abandonment. Since the girl is now seen as dirty and worthless to the family (even if the dad was the perpetrator), she is often sold to traffickers or kicked out of the family home. Thus, it is so crucial to intervene during these early stages, rather than after years of torture and abuse.
Despite all that gloom, there are also many tales of victory. The She Home has been able to pull a lot of these girls off the streets and have given them the support and attention they desperately need. Just as it is difficult to hear so many tales of grief, it is absolutely thrilling to hear beautiful stories of redemption and rebirth. So many of the girls are dominating school and emerging as leaders in their communities. We’ve also had the chance to visit a few local businesses, including a delightful cupcake café, that employee some of these girls. I can’t even begin to describe the joy you feel when you see a stunningly gorgeous wedding cake that has been made by a young lady who has escaped from such a dark world and is now striving to build a new life for herself. It is truly humbling to be part of something so beautiful, so transformative, and so full of hope.
And so there are certainly some evil people out there doing some absolutely horrendous things, but hope, freedom, and restoration are winning.”
Tori Drummond is a 2005 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce. She served as a program director for Boys & Girls Club and a big siblings volunteer during her time at Madison House. She is currently a member of the Madison House Alumni Council and serves as a liaison to the Madison House Board of Directors. Tori is currently a Corporate Philanthropy Coordinator with The Dominion Foundation in Richmond, VA.
Tomorrow I’m hosting a dinner for the McIntire Ivy Society here in Richmond and the topic is Women in Philanthropy. I’ve been thinking a lot about what advice to share with the women who will attend. I actually think my volunteer service through clubs, Madison House, and my church, have made me more knowledgeable about philanthropy than my years of working in Corporate Philanthropy at Dominion.
I think the greatest impact that women can have in philanthropy is using our natural tendency and desire for relationships. Permanent changes aren’t made in someone’s life by serving them one day at a food bank. While serving food benefits hungry citizens, the best way that you can improve someone’s life is by developing a long term relationship.
For the past five years I have served as a tutor. Over time I realized that if I checked out a book on cd from the library, Lizbeth could listen and follow along so that she would learn to read all week instead of just Wednesdays when I see her. But meeting with her on a regular basis has allowed me to see her need for more than reading help. Many people are looking for a mentor or tutor because they don’t have family or friends to provide for them. I have had the chance to take Lizbeth to the library and Chuck E. Cheese, had sleepovers at my house, made cookies in an EZ Bake Oven and made sure that she has the school supplies she needs to complete her homework.
Madison House offers this same model of regular service and I encourage you to embrace the chance to connect with students, grandparents or hospital patients- whatever the case may be- in the same way. Try to think of ways to help the people you are serving even when you aren’t with them. Can you find a book or hobby your grandparent might enjoy? Can you help a homeless person write a resume? Can you help a student make plans for the summer or their future? Through service, you have the ability to permanently improve the quality of life of someone who needs you.