Students who don’t speak English as their first language struggle with daily challenges both in and out of school. The ESOL program places U.Va. students in the classroom with these students to help bridge the language gap. The program is not a miracle worker overnight. It demands volunteers who are diligent, patient, and dedicated to helping individual students learn English. Lizzie is one of these volunteers. I met with her to learn more about her experiences as an ESOL volunteer.
Lizzie is a second year hoping to double major in Global Development Studies and Religious Studies (with a minor in Art too!) She became a volunteer her first year and explained that she was drawn to the program due to her love of travel. One thing that struck me was a simple statement: “Americans travel to other places and struggle with the language barrier there. Imagine how hard it is for immigrants to come to the United States and deal with the language barrier every day.” After graduation, Lizzie wants to work for a NGO or join the PeaceCorps.
Lizzie shared the stories of students she has worked with through the ESOL program. One student named John, at the local Charlottesville High School, was incredibly attentive, driven, and wanted to be successful at learning English. Witnessing the daily struggles ESOL students face, Lizzie has grown to admire the teacher she works with this year, Ms. Germino. She expressed the hope to embody Ms. Germino’s commitment to her students.
If you’re interested in joining the ESOL program or learning more, sign-ups for next semester will be available soon. Lizzie shared that her experiences have been eye-opening in understanding first-hand that not everyone has access to resources UVA students do. The program is a great way to facilitate ESOL students with accessing language tools and give back to the Charlottesville community.
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.
By Yousaf Sajid, Director of Program Development & Engagement
On the evening of October 11th, screams of surprise and joy could be heard all across Charlottesville. That’s because children and volunteers in the Madison House Big Siblings and Bridging the Gap programs received the once in a lifetime opportunity to have tea with a real Disney princess and stars from the Disney on Ice: Princesses and Heroes.
Disney on Ice generously treated 50 pairs of mentees and mentors to a private tea party and provided tickets to the ice show. The night began with Madison House staff directing mentors and mentees through the rain to the secret back entrance of John Paul Jones arena. Once inside, the Disney on Ice organizers gathered everyone to the Disney tea room equipped with snacks, coloring book activities, and of course, plenty of tea! Ice skaters and actors spent time with groups of mentees and their mentors while everyone was anxiously awaiting a special guest to arrive.
A knock was heard at the door and a little sib jumped out of her chair and raced for the door knob. When she pulled the door open, Princess Belle emerged. Cheers and applause erupted in the tea house. Pairs of little sibs and their mentors giddily waited in line to greet Belle and take a picture with her. The children were ecstatic to meet Belle and at times it seemed that the volunteers were even more excited to meet a princess!
The most special moment of the night was seeing the faces on all of the little sibs and mentees when Belle walked into the tea room. The element of surprise cultivated a sense of joy and wonder for little sibs and mentees. In that moment the children felt that anything was possible and that anything and everything positive could happen in their lives; including getting the chance to have tea with a Disney princess!
by Jennifer Walker, Director of Programs
Madison House has gotten off to a great start! Program Directors and staff members enthusiastically handed out a record 3,500 Madison House flyers at the Activities Fair. Registration opened and many programs have quickly filled up, while others are still recruiting to fill spots. Madison House leaders have put in a lot of time these first few weeks. The Head Program Directors enjoyed a Fall leadership retreat in August where they planned for their programs for the year, learned techniques for overseeing PDs and volunteers, and bonded with their fellow HPDs. The Program Directors have hit the ground running by participating in the Program Director Summit, actively recruiting at the Madison House fair and general Activities Fair, attending Program Advisory Meetings (PAMs), and getting their volunteers signed up! As a reward, Madison House held an ice cream social catered by Arch’s for MH Student Leaders!
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.
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.
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/.
Coming to UVA after graduating from a high school of 92 people wasn’t easy. I was no longer the de facto president of anything I wanted, and found myself just one gefilte fish in a pond of thousands. I did my best to maintain continuity whenever I could: I bought the same laundry detergent my mom used, joined intramural basketball teams, and decorated my walls with near-creepy cutouts of my friends at home. But most importantly, I began volunteering with Madison House.
Community service was a huge part of my life back in Atlanta, in school and during the summer months. Spending one afternoon per week at the Boys and Girls Club afforded me invaluable perspective about the place I was now to call my home, and helped thread my old life into my new one. I have continued my involvement with Madison House and the BGC since first year, and currently serve as a Program Director for the Jack Jouett site. It is through this role that I have come to appreciate the power of a place like Madison House.
My time at various Boys and Girls Clubs has of course been rewarding in itself, but seeing the inner workings of Madison House continually motivates me to seek such effective systems in all that I do. I have never seen people who love their jobs so much, or who bring such inspiring passion to their work. I think I speak for all the PDs when I say we are equipped with phenomenal institutional support, without which there would be no volunteers to carry out Madison House’s mission. It’s one thing to send well-intentioned volunteers out into the field, and quite another feat to ground them with appreciation, motivation, and support.
This experience has infused my volunteer hours with newfound energy. I find myself channeling the enthusiasm which permeates Madison House when I hand out snacks, work through a long division problem, and discuss what college is like. When the kids seem disinterested, tired, or just too cool to hang out with a gangly college student, I remember the motivation and support that Madison House lends its students and I can turn the afternoon around. My experience with Madison House has upheld the Margaret Meade quote we often turned to in a high school community service group: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
My name is Paola Perez and I am a fourth year in the Curry School of Education majoring in Communication Disorders. Since first year, I participated in the Adopt-a-Grandparent Program through Madison House, and I must say that this program drastically changed my life.
Creating meaningful one-on-one relationships with senior citizens in the Charlottesville community improved the lives of not only the senior residents of assisted living centers, but also my own. I gained valuable friendships with many senior residents; seeing their smiling faces every time I walk through the front door touches my heart. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to share such memorable experiences with them. The knowledge and wisdom I gained from each and every senior resident helps me to get through the days, weeks, months, and years.
As a Program Director for an Adopt-a-Grandparent site, my responsibility is not only geared towards the senior residents, but also towards my fellow volunteers. Becoming a Program Director allowed me to be the student leader that I aspired to. I branched out of my comfort zone and achieved something I never thought I would. The individuals involved in Madison House helped me become the person I am today, and without them, my UVA family, I do not think I would be able to share this blog with you all today.
Recently we asked a few questions of Sara, a 1st Year considering a double major in Political & Social Thought and Women & Gender Studies. Sara began volunteering at the start of this semester. Sara also worked at a Yoga Studio for two years and is trying to start her own home practice, although she notes that it is hard while living in a dorm.
There’s an older man who volunteers at the food bank who used to be a Dean at UVA who loves to engage the other volunteers in conversation about “life on grounds”. I always have a great time talking to him – and he tries to teach us how to work this tricky forklift that lifts heavy crates – sometimes we all try to avoid being the one that has to operate it next, but he always remembers whose turn it is.