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!
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/.
by Elizabeth Bass
This year’s Head Program Directors
You hear us talk about Madison House being a “home away from home” for our volunteers and Program Directors. You might remember the bowls of candy and the comfy couches and the homey feel of the front lobby and lounge. And you may have met a Madison House staff member or two in your time, and know that we truly care about our students and treat them as extensions of our family.
Home is a place where you can learn about yourself, be vulnerable, prepare yourself for what the world has in store. I believe that Madison House is a home like this for our students, and that providing this space is an integral part of how we help to develop leaders. In fact, observing the leadership growth in students has been one of my favorite things about working at Madison House over the past 10 years.
Of course, I love to see students excel in their program management, have a successful partnership with their Community Partner, or facilitate an effective training. But even more telling is how students recover from a failed attempt, or persevere after not getting something right on the first try. Something clicks and they realize that challenges are part of the process, and that it doesn’t mean they are not a good leader. Showing grace in tense situations, supporting their peers, and really listening to a situation—those are the really important leadership moments, and we have the opportunity to foster these things in our student leaders.
This month, Program Directors are facilitating an entirely student-run, staff-supported Selections process, where next year’s student leaders will apply, be interviewed, and selected for leadership roles for the 2013-14 school year. Sitting on the other side of an interview table is a great skill to develop, especially for those 4th years who are currently searching for post-grad jobs and are usually the ones being interviewed. When we hear from alumni about what their time at MH taught them, job readiness and hands-on leadership skills are among the most valuable lessons they mention!
Newly Selected Program Directors gathering for the Leadership Kickoff last year
When I look back on my own time as a student, I did consider Madison House a home where I could learn, be challenged, and be myself. I hope that we can always say that about this place, and that leadership continues to be defined in ways that are real and meaningful to the student experience.
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:
Well, at least on October 31st, they were! We were also visited by a madcap doctor, a hapless patient, and a room full of witches.
Spreading Madison House’s message across Grounds and beyond, we inaugurated ‘Mad House’ Haunted House as a companion to the annual Trick or Treat on the Lawn festivities. We thought we have candy, we have a house, and we love kids, so why don’t we reach out to the community on this very special All Hallows Eve? With the Inter-Fraternity Council’s (IFC) financial help that is exactly what we did!
More than 100 community members – children of faculty and staff, nearby neighborhood residents and our own Big Sibs and Bridging the Gap mentor pairs – attended our Haunted House. Children played games along Rugby Road, passersby enjoyed cider and fresh popcorn, and the bravest entered the ‘Mad House’ for a ‘PG themed’ haunted house staffed by Program Director s. The pictures are worth 1000 words.
The haunted house gave our staff and volunteers a wonderful opportunity to welcome our neighborhood and local community into our home and hear our message. We were able to connect with students, faculty, staff and neighbors who walk or drive by 170 Rugby Road every day, but don’t stop to think of the impact that our small house has on the Charlottesville/Albemarle community.
YOU are Madison House, too!
Support student volunteerism and leadership through a gift to our annual fund by clicking HERE. But also seek to spread our mission of leadership and service through U. Va. students in their community in creative ways. Wear a Madison House shirt on your jog and inspire conversation and connection; join with other U.Va., Madison House alumni and friends in social and service opportunities in your area as we take Madison House ‘on the road’ in 2013; spread the word by telling friends about how Madison House helped you grow and develop leadership skills that you are now implementing in your new community. Madison House is a small house that makes a BIG difference. The possibilities are limitless and the rewards are great.
YOU are Madison House. Promote. Engage. Give. TODAY.
It has been my great pleasure to serve on the Madison House Board of Directors for over four years, and I am still surprised by all the great things that this organization has accomplished in 43 years. This year I am giving thanks to Madison House for its incredible impact…
Thank you students for giving your time and energy, every week, at more than 100 volunteer sites around Charlottesville, and thank you Program Directors for your leadership in coordinating this amazing effort!
Thank you staff for managing a 3,000 person organization and creating such a positive learning and social experience for the students. You are helping our volunteers create better lives for others and themselves every day!
Thank you community partners for all that you do in Central Virginia — in our schools and hospitals and retirement homes and childcare centers and so many other places; we are honored to help you provide solutions and opportunities for our fellow citizens!
Thank you Madison House Board of Directors for your service and leadership in governing the largest weekly collegiate service organization in the country!
And thank you to all of our donors — students and alumni, faculty and staff, parents and community members — for the financial support that makes all this possible for the University and community!
Wishing a safe and happy Thanksgiving to all,
The Community Garden at Piedmont Virginia Community College recently became Madison House’s newest site. The PVCC Horticulture and Environmental Club discuss on their blog.
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.
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.
Being able to work, play, and raise a family in Charlottesville is a great way to live one’s life. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1975 as a member of the second class of women admitted to the college. It was a terrific time in my life. Although I was far too distracted by other opportunities at the University and did not volunteer at Madison House at that time, I jumped at the chance to serve on its Board last year.
Madison House is an extraordinary community asset. I am now in my second year of service to the Board. As an attorney who has practiced family law for decades in this community and as a mother of three children, who were fortunate enough to have been born and educated in Charlottesville, I have only recently learned how Madison House has touched me and my family’s lives over all of these years. My children participated in a variety of team sports, including SOCA. My husband and I remain indebted to the time the Madison House coaches served our children so well. Some of my pro bono clients have had children who needed a Big Sis or a Big Brother. Their lives were made better by Madison House volunteers.
Madison House remains a significant presence behind the scenes of so many organizations in Charlottesville. I am pleased to be able to serve on the Board and assist in any way I can to assure that this organization continues to remain an important asset in our community.
Elizabeth P. Coughter