Held Monday, Feb. 17, the inaugural VMI Service Fair drew representatives of 16 organizations to the upper floor of Crozet Hall, where cadets, faculty and staff gathered to learn more about helping others, both on and off post.
Bringing multiple organizations into one place at the same time was the brainchild of the VMI Civic Engagement Committee, formerly the VMI Service Committee. “To cast a wider net, it’s become civic engagement,” said Maj. Sara Whipple, Ph.D., committee member and assistant professor in the psychology department.
“It’s really to encourage cadets to get involved in the local community, with the goal of almost 100% of our cadets engaging in some kind of community-type experience or service project,” said Whipple of the committee’s purpose.
Of course, since only 1st Class cadets are allowed to bring cars to Lexington, getting off post to volunteer has long been a problem. That’s why Lt. Col. Todd Pegg ’92, deputy commandant for operations, was in attendance at the service fair to answer questions from both cadets and community members about permits and transportation.
“The [permit] system can be a little challenging to navigate if you don’t know what it’s about,” said Whipple.
Agreeing with Whipple about the importance of letting cadets know about service opportunities was Sabrina Laroussi, Ph.D., chair of the Civic Engagement Committee. “We want to provide opportunities for cadets to do service projects in the community and be like a liaison between cadets and our community organizations,” said Laroussi. “We want [cadets] to be more involved.”
Among the community organizations represented at the fair were Hoofbeats, an organization providing therapeutic horseback riding to those with disabilities; Rockbridge Area Hospice; and the Rockbridge Area Relief Organization (RARA), whose outreach efforts to low-income individuals include a food pantry.
Also there, with a plethora of animal pelts as intriguing conversation starters, were representatives of the Natural Bridge State Park – a venue where cadets already volunteer.
“They are amazing workers,” said park representative Olivia Saacke of the cadet volunteers. “We love having them as volunteers. They get work done in a day that other volunteers would probably take longer to do.”
Community service organizations based on post that set up tables at the fair included Building BRIDGES, a community service club that has long-standing relationships with Project Horizon, an organization dedicated to combating sexual and domestic violence, Habitat for Humanity and the Rockbridge SPCA, among others.
“We want to show cadets that there’s a way to connect with the community in Rockbridge, and to be a liaison between these organizations and cadets,” said Cadet Elizabeth Jackson ’20, cadet in charge of Building BRIDGES.
And when it comes to community service, time – always a scarce commodity for cadets – isn’t as limiting of a factor as cadets might imagine, said Cadet Laura Payne ’20, assistant cadet in charge of Building BRIDGES.
“That’s our role here at Building BRIDGES,” said Payne. “We try to link up the cadets with all of these organizations. It doesn’t take as much time as they may think.”
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing