Giving Back: Places to Volunteer in Harrisonburg

Story by Kayla Marsh

Photo by Madelaine Williams

Volunteering is a great way to get to know the community and grow as a person. It also provides a way for students to be involved in causes they care about.  Here are some ways that you can participate in Harrisonburg:

Big Brothers Big Sisters

You are paired with a child in elementary school to be their big brother or big sister. The mission of BBBS is to “help children reach their potential through one-to-one relationships with mentors that have a measurable impact on youth.” Volunteering here means you will have a direct impact on a child’s life.

Senior biology major Maddy Kasprzak visits her little sister once a week for an hour at Spotswood Elementary School. Kasprzak has been with her little sister for three years now.

“I love getting the chance to get involved with her life at school because I feel like this is a critical time in her life and she doesn’t have a big sister to look up to so I get to fill those shoes,” Kasprzak says.

Many children in the program may not have that kind of stability in their lives, so your presence could make a difference in a young boy or girl through this program.

Harrisonburg/Rockingham SPCA

You cuddle with cats, hold bunnies and small mammals as well as play with dogs and puppies. The mission of the SPCA is to create a humane and safe environment for all animals, as they deal with animal neglect, cruelty and overpopulation. The shelter aids and directs homeless animals to caring families. The volunteers’ main jobs are simply socializing with the animals.

Sophomore nursing major Brianna Spitler views SPCA as a “huge stress reliever because I get to play with some of the sweetest animals I have ever met.” Interacting with the animals allows her to not miss her pets at home as much.

Volunteering for the SPCA is all good things — minus the messes.

Harrisonburg Refugee Resettlement Program

This program is a branch of Church World Service. They have resettled refugees since 1988 from many countries within a 100-mile radius of the program’s office to help refugees become more self-sufficient and integrated into the community and American lifestyle. Volunteers assist with cultural orientation classes and talk about topics like home, health, education, finances and jobs. Other areas of volunteering include teaching public transportation, in-home tutoring and interning at the office.

Senior international affairs major Caitlin Jamros’ favorite thing to do in the program is working as a Peace Camp counselor over the summer. She got to meet and teach some of the refugee children and be their counselor for the week. “It was really rewarding to know that I was making such an impact in a child’s life who came here to be better,” Jamros says. Some people might come from zones of conflict, so teaching them about peace and diversity is very applicable to their situations.

Patchwork Pantry/the Salvation Army

atchwork Pantry gives food to people in need. You talk to people to find out what their income is, how many people are in their household and what foods they want. After you get their food from the pantry, you help take it out to their cars or cabs.

For 2015 alumna Katie Runyon, it was rewarding because she got to talk to people and hear their stories.

“Seeing how we directly work with them and impact their lives in a positive way is really inspiring for me, too. It’s not just with food, but with the things they need to get by in life,” Runyon says.

Seeing those people in need can help keep you grounded, and giving back to the community can help you appreciate what you have.

The “Gus Bus”

The Reading Road Show — AKA The Gus Bus — is a reading program that provides an opportunity for children and their families to have storytime and participate in a book exchange program on a weekly basis. It’s a mobile bus that turns into a library on the inside. They visit neighborhoods each week. During that time, kids can come on the bus and check out books and read with the volunteers.

They also have after school programs, which is what senior education major Leah Vagnoni volunteers with. The Gus Bus puts on after school enrichment classes. Vagnoni goes to Spotswood Elementary School once a week and assists the instructors with weekly lesson plans and activities.

“It’s exciting for me to watch kids learn and grow each week … I’m learning new things as well,” Vagnoni says.


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