A campuswide service project resulted in the collection of more than 14,000 nonperishable food items.
A graduate student and the Greek Life community help a Ghanaian village and its school.
by Mary Hardbarger
Years before Meron and Melat Habtemichael ‘16 were sorting and packing food for distribution in Southwest Virginia, they were tutoring and counseling children infected with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The Ethiopian-born twins both carry a deep desire to help others.
“We feel it is very important to pay it forward,” Melat said.
“Because when we leave this Earth, what are we going to leave behind?” Meron added.
At Radford University, the Habtemichaels and thousands of other students are leaving behind a legacy of service.
Volunteerism is an integral part of the Radford University experience. Students have many opportunities and are encouraged to give back to the community during their four-year academic journey.
When the Habtemichaels, both information systems majors, enrolled in Radford University in spring 2015, they didn’t waste any time jumping into service.
They helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity and knitted blankets and collected books for children. More recently, they participated in Radford’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on which more than 250 students, faculty and staff volunteered throughout the community.
Since 2014, the MLK Jr. Day of Service has sent student-volunteers throughout the New River and Roanoke valleys to perform a variety of tasks. This year, they volunteered at thrift stores and clothing banks, collected food items at local supermarkets, prepared and served meals, performed maintenance at local churches and mentored schoolchildren at a low-income apartment complex.
The Habtemichaels traveled with a group to Salem, Virginia, where they sorted through donated food items at Feeding America Southwest Virginia.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” Meron said.
“We want to give back to our community because this community has done so much for us,” Melot explained.
The sisters’ sentiments are echoed across campus. Philanthropic efforts are a collaboration of the entire Radford University community. Student clubs and organizations, athletic teams, colleges and departments all chip in when it comes to helping others.
The university’s Scholar-Citizen Initiative partners students with faculty who are regularly engaged with the community through classembedded service projects and alternative spring break programs, among other impactful efforts.
Every fall semester since 2009, the Greek Life community has sponsored a Holiday Food Drive. On average, about 3,000 pounds of canned goods is collected for distribution to local food pantries. Last fall, enough food was collected to feed 500 families for three months.
Assistant Director of Student Activities/Greek Life Robert Marias sees firsthand the transformation students experience as a result of giving back.
“They are engaging beyond the campus and the classroom and learning what the world is really like,” Marias said. “They are gaining life skills and building community partnerships that can raise awareness of issues or needs within our local communities as well as at the state, national and worldwide stage. These experiences broaden students’ perspectives on what it means to be a citizen of the world.”
In addition to the MLK Jr. Day of Service, a new service project sprung this spring.
More than 100 students participated in the university’s firstever Spring Community Service Day in April. Volunteers cleaned up local Boy Scout camps, planted flowers at Bisset Park, picked up trash across campus and sorted goods at a local food ministry.
Among the many volunteers was senior Christian Walker ’16 of Kappa Alpha Psi, an information systems major from Hampton.
“Giving back to the community is important to not only my fraternity as a whole, but to me personally,” Walker said. “I have engaged in numerous service projects, and with each one, I gain a sense of accomplishment as I put others before myself.”
This fall, students had even more opportunities to give back as university administrators worked to expand service efforts. The goal, Marias said, is to offer at least five signature service projects per academic year.
“We, as a campus, are trying to do more,” Marias said. “We’re trying to pool everybody together so that all the students, faculty and staff are engaging at some level in helping the community around us.”
by Mary Hardbarger
University and community volunteers gathered in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center on Oct. 11 to organize the thousands of food items. In assembly-line style, more than 250 sets of helping hands stuffed plastic bags full of food and loaded them onto a truck.
Granola bars, soup, macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables and applesauce were just a few of the requested items on the kid-friendly list.
The amount collected was estimated to feed 100 Radford City Public School (RCPS) pre-K-12 students for 14 weeks. Food was distributed through the Bobcat Backpacks Program, a 501(c)3 community-sponsored organization, with support from the Highlander Helpers Backpack Program, a Radford University club. Both programs provide weekly bags of food for children to take home on the weekends.
Students, faculty and staff donated the items during the weeks leading up to the food drive, which was held in conjunction with President Brian O. Hemphill’s inauguration celebration.
President Hemphill and his wife, Dr. Marisela Rosas Hemphill, have been champions of service throughout their professional careers.
Marisela Rosas Hemphill addressed participants during a short program held prior to the Oct. 11 event.
“Community service is so important to me and my family,” she said. “My husband and I are always looking for ways to connect with the local community. Therefore, when we were planning the inauguration activities, we knew an event at Radford University could be used as a special occasion to give back to the place that we all live, work and learn. This evening it is very clear that the Radford family cares deeply for one another. My family and I could not be more proud to be part of the Highlander family.”
Senior Katherine Kammer, president of Highlander Helpers, said she was overwhelmed by the support.
“I don’t think I can even put in words how proud and By Mary Hardbarger thankful I am of the Radford University community,” Kammer said.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you work together. These children we serve are our future and even future Highlanders, so to be able to support them and provide food for them is awesome.”
Highlander Helpers began as a class project in 2007. It grew into an organized university club in 2010 — its members serving about 10-15 McHarg Elementary School students each week. An increased need for weekend food was identified, and the club soon started serving more than 60 students throughout the entire school system. As the numbers continued to grow, the Highlander Helpers looked to the community for support.
In January 2016, Bobcat Backpacks was created as an autonomous program run by community members working under the Belle Heth Elementary School Parent School Association. Highlander Helpers now support Bobcat Backpacks through fundraising efforts and food drives.
Bobcat Backpacks founders Daniela Brunner ’96, Jenny Riffe ’03 and Jane Fisher ’94, M.S. ’00 are mothers of RCPS students and proud Radford University alumnae.
“This has been a wonderful town-gown relationship,” said Riffe. “The outreach has been amazing. The linkage between Radford University and the surrounding community is so important, and that’s what tonight’s event is all about.”
Highlander Helpers volunteer with Bobcat Backpacks each week to pack the weekend food bags at a local church. “My kids get to see college students giving back,” said Fisher. “They’re our role models.”
The women agreed they are excited to see the Hemphill family already involved with the local community. “We love the fact that they care so much,” Riffe said. “Since they’ve arrived, it’s like they’ve said ‘Radford is our home, and this is how we treat it.’”
BY MARY HARDBARGER
In 2010, Heather Bowden, M.S.W. ’16 established a primary school in a remote village of West Africa, giving children access to an education they never had before.
Since then, the 28-year-old has created a nonprofit to sustain the school, and most recently, earned a master’s degree in social work from Radford University.
Bowden, a Southwest Virginia native, was pursuing an undergraduate degree in studio art from Hollins University when she first visited Nsumensa (pronounced in-soo-mensa), a small village in the Volta Region of Ghana. Located four miles by a rugged foot path into the rainforest, the community’s lush surroundings sustain its inhabitant’s way of life.
Upon arrival, Bowden soon learned the children did not have a school to attend. So, she hired two teachers to instruct 33 students in a small, rundown building.
Two years later, she returned to build a larger and more permanent building, one conducive to the region’s heavy rains and hot temperatures. When completed, the new Nsumensa Village Primary School consisted of two buildings and three classrooms. Today, about 60 students are enrolled.
Bowden has maintained the school’s expenses through a nonprofit she founded called The Pocket Project Inc. In the past year, she learned the school was to become part of Ghana’s public school system, a huge step toward sustainability and the ultimate goal of the school.
Understanding the Ghanaian government would provide its own set of trained teachers, Bowden had to let go those she had hired.
In an effort to provide the teachers a stipend and make the “process run as smoothly as possible,” Bowden began to fundraise.
This time, she didn’t have to look far from her alma mater for help.
Bowden’s friend and fellow RU social work classmate Kaitlyn Ayares was a member of Radford’s chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha while an undergraduate. Each year, the Greek Life community supports numerous causes. Perhaps they might contribute to Bowden’s endeavor, Ayares thought.
“It is such an amazing project,” Ayares said. “Heather has helped me see that these things really are attainable.
We really can help others in a big way.”
Ayares encouraged Bowden to present her cause to a group of Greek Life leaders. They were so moved by her efforts that they decided to donate in full the $3,000 Bowden sought.
“Heather and the Pocket Project were such an inspiration to us,” said Alpha Sigma Alpha member Alice Wren, former president of RU’s Panhellenic Council. “As Greeks, it gave us a sense of pride to support the school because we knew we were helping our community. We were giving beyond ourselves. That’s what we are here for — we are here to make a difference.”
To Bowden, the movement has come full circle.
“This has been a truly meaningful collaboration of Radford University’s social work program, its Greek Life community and The Pocket Project,” Bowden said. “We have reached across these different spectrums and ended up with a common interest of giving back. Without their involvement, my involvement doesn’t exist.”
Bowden graduated this spring and plans to continue her support of the school but doesn’t know if she’ll return.
“It’s time for me to let go and let the community take ownership of their school,” she explained.
Reflecting on the people she met and the impact she made, Bowden remains humble.
“I am so grateful to have lived in such a magical forest with welcoming and kind people,” Bowden said. “Although the process has been a complicated and challenging one, I hope that the school has been and will continue to be a place of empowerment for the students. While my role in the school is fading, I dream of the children being able to pursue the lives they wish to lead and be able to defend themselves and their village as a result of their education.”
By Mary Hardbarger
For college basketball fans, the month of March means “madness.” “March Madness,” that is.
Each March, the top men’s and women’s basketball teams vie for the National Championship title.
That competitive spirit spread to Radford University this spring as students participated in the first-ever March Fund Madness philanthropy challenge.
The fundraising effort was created by the Student Organization of Radford Alumni Development (SoRAD) as an opportunity to educate students on ways they could financially contribute to their university.
Crystal Hubbard ‘00, M.B.A. ‘08, assistant director of Annual Giving, said the competition was a creative way to get students involved while also educating them on the importance of philanthropy.
“One of the main drivers of philanthropy is pride, and we know our students have a lot of pride in their university,” Hubbard said. “This sense of competition drummed up that pride and got students excited to give to a great cause that will impact their everyday lives.”
As the top teams battled it out on national television, the university’s six colleges competed against one another in a bracket-style competition. To participate, students had to make a donation to a cause of their choice within their respective college.
Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate student Kenzie Vanderwerker ‘15 gathered a group of her peers to participate.
“One of the reasons I stayed at Radford for graduate school is because of how much it has given me,” she said. “Between faculty support and the great organizations here, I have been able to do all the things I wanted. This was just one fun, small way for me to give back.”
At the end of every week, colleges either advanced or were eliminated from the bracket until only one victor remained. This year’s winner was the Waldron College of Health and Human Services.
The college’s dean, Kenneth Cox, said the majority of the funds raised during the competition will go toward the college’s general fund.
“By nature, our students are caring and compassionate,” Cox said. “This is what they do. Their success in this campaign reflects on the college’s culture of giving. The students give unselfishly to the University in the same way they do to their communities.”