A day on: Students, faculty and staff serve, give back
Nearly 300 Radford University students, faculty and staff braved the frigid morning across the New River and Roanoke valleys to give back to the community on Jan. 15 for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
While the spring semester didn’t officially start until Jan. 16, many students arrived early to give back to the local community. Julea Ambrozaitis, of New Hartford, Connecticut, said that the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service was the true start of her semester.
“This is my third time doing MLK Day – it’s an important part of the semester,” said Ambrozaitis, the Student Government Association Chief of Staff. “It’s a great way to start the new year.”
Now in its fifth consecutive year, the community service event includes hundreds of volunteers who served across the New River and Roanoke Valleys in a variety of capacities. On Monday, the volunteers gave their time to help a variety of community projects and programs, including the Bobcat Backpacks program, Feeding America, Beans and Rice After School Program, Radford Animal Shelter, Radford Women’s Resource Center, Radford Clothing Bank, Linus Fleece Program and more.
Members of Radford University’s administration joined the volunteers at the community service sites around the New River and Roanoke Valleys.
“Having the administration there means a lot to us as students. It shows us that it isn’t just us giving back – it’s our whole university,” Ambrozaitis said. “Our university is really represented through everyone. It isn’t just the students out in the cold. The president is there too wanting to make a difference in the community.”
Amy Balija, assistant professor of chemistry, volunteered her time Monday morning to help bring in donations for the Radford Animal Shelter.
“It is a great opportunity for students and faculty and staff to come together and show our support,” she said. “Being able to come help and give back to the community is important. As a university, that’s one of the things that we should be doing.”
As a faculty member, Balija saw some of her students volunteering their time as well.
“The students love to see their professors involved,” Balija said. “I saw some of my students today and they were excited to see me and my son. It’s not just me – but my family as well. They love it.”
It wasn’t only students, faculty and staff who came out to the community service event.
Akaia Perry ’17, of Leesburg, came back to volunteer with the Beans and Rice After School Program because of the need for food in the area. “Food distribution really helps people and you see first-hand how it helps,” she said. “Each person can take a good amount of food with them.”
Part of the reason Perry returned to serve was her fondness for the organization.
“I really liked the organization – I did an internship there when I was a student,” Perry said. “Every year they participated in the MLK Day of Service. We’re helping to support the community.”
Just a few miles down Rock Road, students served local children at the Radford Early Learning Center, where Radford students read books to the children, did developmental activities with the children and picked up pebbles – a choking hazard – that were scattered around the outdoor playground.
Jacki Trabosh, of Haymarket, started off the day reading a book on how dinosaurs could catch a cold.
“The kids were a little anxious, and I remembered when I was in middle school we played silent ball, so we played that with the kids,” Trabosh said.
The next activity involved one of the children teaching Trabosh something new – bracelet making. “It’s cool learning something new,” she said. “It would be fun to have at one of our events on campus. We’re in college but we are just big kids.”
Just down the hallway - and outside – Ambrozaitis picked up the pebbles – used around the building for water drainage – that plague the playground.
Back on Radford’s campus, students gathered in the warmth of McConnell Library to make blankets for Project Linus. Nate Ogden, of Santa Monica, California, said that all of the blankets go to children in need.
“I think this is a great thing to have everyone come out and see everyone out here volunteering is a great thing,” Ogden said. “It’s a big way for community outreach and a great way to give back to our community as a whole. We aren’t just here to go to class and learn, we need to get involved more and give back. I want to get engaged and do more for the community as a whole.”
Just across the room sat Myles Gunter, of Roanoke, who also worked on making blankets for children in need.
“It’s good to give back because I was given a lot, so I like to give back to the community to help others who weren’t as fortunate as me,” he said.
Also on campus was Marcus Britt, of Fredericksburg, who volunteered working at a children’s camp in the Recreation and Wellness Center.
“It gives you a good sense of how the world is bigger than just you,” Britt said. “This is my first-time volunteering at the MLK Day of Service and so far, it seems really good. I get to spend time with kids [at the camp]. The kids really enjoy what we’re doing with them today.”
Nicole Smith, of Winchester, said that the Bobcat Backpacks Program is a really important cause to her.
“It makes me feel really good to commit my time to something that’s for somebody else,” she said. “To get that thank you at the end of the day, it means a lot. It has a special place in my heart.”