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News and Events

Faces of Service: Marymount Students Answer the Call

by Denise Alexander

“I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifice for the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.”

from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

This observation is as true today as it was in 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville visited the young United States and wrote insightfully about the American character. Over the course of our nation’s history, myriad examples have shown that one defining trait of the American psyche is a giving spirit.

Even in today’s tough economy there is a strong emphasis on volunteerism and “giving back.” President Barack Obama recently signed into law The Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, which triples the number of volunteer positions available through AmeriCorps, saying that “because of this legislation, millions of Americans at all stages of their lives will have new opportunities to serve their country.”

This national call to service mirrors the culture of volunteerism that is intrinsic to Marymount University. As a Catholic institution of higher learning grounded in the values of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Marymount has always been committed to incorporating service into the educational experience.

In January 2009 this commitment received national recognition when the University was honored with a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, published by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The honor roll recognizes colleges and universities for “exemplary volunteer efforts and service to America’s communities.”

Marymount President James E. Bundschuh notes, “This is a great honor, and we are very proud that our University has been recognized for its commitment to service. I am continually impressed by the initiative and dedication to helping others that our students show through their on- and off-campus volunteer activities.”

Launched in 2006, the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement. Honorees are chosen based on such factors as scope and innovation of service projects, percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service, and the availability of academic service-learning opportunities.

Last year, more than 800 Marymount University students participated in on- and off-campus service activities, sharing their time and talents with others for a total of more than 9,500 hours. But such statistics, as impressive as they may be, are impersonal and cannot convey the emotional commitment that is at the heart of this University’s spirit of service.

Volunteering at Marymount can be as simple and as powerful as showing up every week at a tutoring session, helping out at a community gala that funds research for cancer, or even baking cookies for the athletes participating in a Special Olympics Basketball Tournament. But who are the members of the MU community who perform these acts of service? They are men and women, undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, artists, and athletes, who reflect the rich diversity of Marymount University. Here are just a few of their stories…

Student-Athletes

When their sports are in season, Marymount’s NCAA Division III athletes follow rigorous schedules of training, practice, and competition. During their off-seasons, they work to stay in shape. And in all seasons they hit the books hard, knowing that they are required to maintain high academic standards. So it’s difficult to figure out when they have time for volunteer activities…but sometimes the busier you are, the more time you make for what’s important.

MU student-athletes hold a food drive to benefit the Arlington Food Assistance Center
 
This certainly seems to be the case for MU’s student-athletes. Under the direction of volleyball coach Beth Ann Wilson, the teams have adopted a coordinated “buddy system” approach to their volunteer activities. Coach Wilson says, “We recently got a little more organized. Now, the teams work together on two all-inclusive service projects each year, one per semester. Throughout the rest of the year, individual teams join in smaller volunteer efforts when other teams are busy on the court or the field.”

It’s athletes like Chris McQuilkin who take the lead in all this. Chris, who is pursuing a Master of Science in Health Promotion Management, is also playing his final season on the men’s lacrosse team, having been given an extra year of eligiblity after breaking his leg in his freshman year.

He recalls becoming involved in volunteer service when he saw boxes for a canned-food drive on campus going unfilled. As president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Chris worked with his fellow athletes to think outside of the box – literally. He explains, “There aren’t too many students on campus hoarding canned food, so the obvious answer was to go where the cans are.”

He recalls, “In November 2007, just before Thanksgiving, we contacted a local Safeway grocery store and asked if we could set up a station outside to collect canned food, which we would then donate to the Arlington Food Assistance Center, a local food bank that provides supplemental groceries to our neighbors who can’t afford to purchase all the food they need. That first year, we collected 482 pounds of food. We collected again this past fall, and upped our donation to the food bank to 589 pounds of non-perishable food, plus $75 in cash.”

Chris continues, “Sponsoring one big event for all the athletes each semester seems to work well. This spring, we did a ‘Happy Hats’ service project, which had us all working on our manual dexterity skills! More than 50 MU student-athletes made hats for children suffering from cancer. It was quite a sight to see big lacrosse players trying to sew and decorate these little hats, which are all going to a local hospital.”

It is the nature of athletics that teams share a special camaraderie, but joint volunteer efforts have made these bonds even stronger at Marymount. Last October, the University’s volleyball team held a “Dig Pink” match to raise money for breast cancer research – an effort made personal by the knowledge that Tina Carroll, a former MU volleyball player, recently died of breast cancer at the age of 31. The team wore pink uniforms and the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams pitched in by holding a bake sale and selling pink ribbons. Their joint efforts raised $640.

The lacrosse teams also collected money at a recent doubleheader to help out a family in Katy, Texas. Chris explains the connection: “I’m from Katy, and so are two other lacrosse players. We learned that a former high school teammate had cancer and the family was having a hard time with their medical bills. So, we collected donations during the women’s game, and the women collected during ours. We netted about $300. It’s not a lot, but it provided a little help to the family and also let them know that we care.”

In fact, Marymount’s student-athletes care a lot, and they quietly help others out all the time. Each year, MU Athletics Director and Women’s Basketball Coach Bill Finney invites local junior-high basketball teams and youth clubs to practice with the Saints and even come into the locker room at halftime, giving them a real sense of what collegiate basketball is all about.

Coach Finney notes, “We have many young people in the community who follow the Saints, not only due to the success of our program, but also because the players on our team are excellent role models for these younger players.”

MU athletes also lend their support to such campus-wide service initiatives as HalloweenFest and the Special Olympics Basketball Tournament. An annual HalloweenFest highlight is the “Haunted Laundry Room” deep inside the Lee Center, which student-athletes decorate and populate with appropriately scary characters. And what Special Olympics Basketball Tournament would be complete without the cookies baked at Coach Wilson’s house, or the great half-time slam-dunk show put on by the Marymount Saints?

Chris McQuilkin sums it all up: “Our efforts may seem small, but I believe that big things start to happen when you accomplish little things. I think we’ve done a lot with a little, and I know that future Marymount teams will build on what we’ve started.”

Campus Ministry Association

The Campus Ministry Association (CMA) has always been the heart and soul of volunteer service at Marymount. From providing new students with their first volunteer experiences during Freshman Orientation to offering on- and off-campus service opportunities throughout the year, Campus Ministry puts the Catholic faith into action by encouraging students of all backgrounds to embrace Marymount University’s service ethic.

Colin Farrell ’09 on Alternative Spring Break in the Dominican Republic
 
Rachael Shumaker ’09, a Communication major from Fairfax, Virginia, was a four-year recipient of Marymount’s Spirit of Service Scholarship. Rachael had always done volunteer service in high school, but she was a little concerned when she first learned that the MU Spirit of Service Scholarship requires 60 hours of volunteer time per semester – a somewhat daunting number for an incoming college student who was also going to be on the swim team.

She remembers, “At first it seemed like a lot of hours, but Campus Ministry has a great system with weekly programs set up at places like the Greenbrier Learning Center, Sunrise Assisted Living, and L’Arche Community.”

She continues, “I love working with children, so I chose Greenbrier and soon 60 hours didn’t seem that hard. It became my choice, not my chore. I go there two afternoons a week, and I’ve been with many of the same children for four years. We’ve really bonded. They give me hugs when I come and want to know where I’ve been if I miss a day.”

Rachael cites the close-knit camaraderie that CMA members enjoy as integral to attracting other students who may not immediately be drawn to service. Colin Farrell ’09, a History major who plans to teach after graduation, served as Marymount’s Student Campus Minister this past year. He says that he is an example of someone who knew that he was missing out on something before he became involved in service.

Colin recalls, “I was on the periphery of Campus Ministry during my freshman year. I didn’t take advantage of early opportunities to get involved, partly because I played lacrosse and was pretty busy. I did help with HalloweenFest when I was a freshman. It’s this huge trick-or-treat extravaganza for children from local schools and shelters, and it was not only a lot of fun but also felt good on a deeper level. Then I decided to go on the CMA Winter Retreat. I had to beg my lacrosse coach to let me go, but in the end, he always held faith and family above sports.”

Colin continues, “After that retreat, I finally decided to step up to the plate and become part of the Campus Ministry team in my sophomore year. I can honestly say that it changed everything about my experience at Marymount. I love being part of the community that this University has created – where everyone helps out. For me, service to others always brings personal growth.”

Colin’s decision did not come without some sacrifice. He gave up his senior year of lacrosse in order to fulfill his responsibilities as Student Campus Minister and to have time to go on CMA’s Alternative Spring Break service trip to the Dominican Republic. Again, it was a pivotal experience in his college career.

Colin says, “From what I understand, this was the first year where the students really went out to the middle of nowhere. The local priest needed work done on outlying chapels, really mud and stick huts, so he tapped a group that he felt confident could do the job, and that was us.

“We painted eight chapels in four days, slept on concrete floors, and ate whatever was given us. Still, that’s not my main impression of the trip. What I really remember are kids with big smiles who didn’t have enough to eat and lived in the most minimal conditions. The hardest part was leaving them behind. It makes you feel guilty and grateful for all that we have in the United States.”

Kelly Power, assistant director of Campus Ministry, oversees the office’s volunteer programs. She emphasizes that there are plenty of CMA members just as committed and involved as Rachael and Colin. Ms. Power points to the organization, leadership, and sheer number of volunteers needed to make Marymount’s annual HalloweenFest and Special Olympics Basketball Tournament successful. She explains, “The staff helps with logistics and communication with outside groups, but the students do all of the on-campus work. They get their friends involved, and nearly all of the clubs and teams on campus have a role. These two big campuswide events really show what MU students can do when they all pull together.”

Colin confirms, “For this year’s Special Olympics Tournament, everyone was up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday hanging posters, making banners for their adopted teams, and then spending the day cheering for them. Even at the end, the MU lacrosse team, who were just finishing a practice, came by to help with the clean-up. There was a real sense of community. To me, the volunteer spirit really is the Marymount spirit.”

And that spirit doesn’t end at graduation. Rachael Shumaker says, “I’m hoping to start Officer Candidate School for the Coast Guard next fall, but I plan to continue volunteering over the summer. I find service incredibly rewarding, and I’m sure I will always have opportunities to continue to serve.”

Community Health Projects

Health care is an issue that affects everyone. The number of uninsured Americans and the enormous costs of health care reform seem overwhelming and may mask the human face of those in need – many of whom are our neighbors.

Diane Koh ’08 checks a patient’s blood pressure at the St. Charles Borromeo Nurse-Managed Health Care Center.
 
Marymount has long recognized that there is a pressing need for low-cost health care services in northern Virginia. In response, the University supports a number of community health initiatives. Dr. Theresa Cappello, dean of MU’s School of Health Professions, elaborates: “Over the years, students in our programs have assisted at blood drives, organized health fairs, and even provided basic health care services in Belize through a summer study abroad program. In addition, we have spearheaded major, ongoing initiatives close to home that are making a real difference in our community.”

Juan Javier Salazar ’08 and his fellow Nursing students are among those who helped make one such initiative – Marymount’s Nurse-Managed Health Care Center at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington – a success. The center offers screening and referral services, wellness programs, and health education for area residents with little or no health insurance.

Javier, as he prefers to be called, previously worked in public health and brought that experience to his volunteer work at St. Charles. He says, “In planning the services to be offered there, we really focused on understanding our clients. Our goal has been to offer needed services in an environment that’s not intimidating.”

The center’s first program, in early fall 2008, typified the sensitivities that had to be accounted for. Javier worked with classmates Aimee Clatterbuck ’08 and Jamaal Campbell ’08 to set up a breast cancer screening. He explains, “St. Charles is a primarily Hispanic parish and for many Latinos, personal health is a very private issue, not really discussed, so we had to bridge that cultural gap.

“We put people at ease by offering the sessions in both English and Spanish, demonstrating the proper self-examination technique on mannequins, and offering examinations to those clients who were comfortable with a check-up.”

Aimee Clatterbuck adds, “It was really an amazing success. Twenty-nine women, ranging in age from 16 to 75, attended the session. We ended up referring three women for follow-up care with a physician, and enough people participated to qualify the center for a visit by the GW Mammogram Bus this spring!”

The success of that first program provided good word-of-mouth for a November Health Fair at the center, which attracted more than 80 clients. Faculty and students from MU’s Nursing, Physical Therapy, and Health Promotion programs staffed the event, providing breast cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose screenings; mental health and drug and alcohol awareness information; and flu vaccinations. Gold’s Gym even got into the act, providing an exercise demonstration.

Later that same month, MU Nursing students spent several days at the St. Charles Borromeo Elementary School, conducting free vision and hearing screenings for the children and giving demonstrations on proper hand washing, dental hygiene, and good nutrition.

Javier, Aimee, and Jamaal completed their B.S.N. program in December 2008, but other students coming along behind them have continued to provide valuable services to the community through the Nurse-Managed Health Care Center. Reflecting on the initiative, Aimee says, “I feel good that we were able to use our nursing skills to help people who don’t have insurance or might not have had access to health care if it hadn’t been for this program or the Arlington Free Clinic.”

Which is another place where Marymount students make a difference. For several years, Drs. Diana Venskus and Julie Ries, faculty members in the University’s Physical Therapy Department, have volunteered their expertise at the Arlington Free Clinic. Recognizing that there was a significant need for physical therapy services at the clinic, they incorporated a service-learning component into Marymount’s curriculum.

Dr. Ries explains, “We started to bring classes and clinicals to the Free Clinic. For instance, I teach Neurological Rehabilitation to Doctor of Physical Therapy students right there at the clinic. Their assignments include developing treatment plans for neurologically impaired clients. Other students do clinical rotations there, helping clients with orthopedic problems. All of this is done under faculty direction, and the initiative has proved beneficial for everyone.”

Amy Voiland, a second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student, concurs, noting, “The Free Clinic was my first clinical rotation – it was a very hands-on experience, and I learned a lot. At the same time, I found it really rewarding to be working with an under-served population, most of whom would not have an opportunity for physical therapy if Marymount didn’t provide these services through the Free Clinic.”

Making a difference in local classrooms or clinics may not garner a lot of publicity, but the students who give their time to help others feel a great sense of satisfaction. Javier Salazar speaks for many when he says, “I feel good about what we’ve accomplished. We’ve established foundations that future students can build on. We’ve left a blueprint that says, ‘We’re part of this community, and this is how we help.’”

Fashion Club

The nation’s capital has always been the epicenter of all things political, but until recently, DC definitely did not make the top-ten list when it came to the fashion and social scene. Now Washington, DC, is shedding its former staid, conservative image and vying with New York City as a hot spot for charity galas, fundraisers, and fashion shows.

MU Fashion Club volunteers and friends at designer Nanette Lepore’s boutique opening in Chevy Chase, MD. (l to r): Dana Doughton ’11, Georgetown student Cristina Cardenal, Nanette Lepore, Kristin McMahon ’09, and Lydia Russo ’10
 
But unlike NYC, where parties and fashion shows are an industry, the DC charity events often rely on scores of volunteers. At the top of the speed-dial list of who to call for help is Marymount University’s Fashion Club.

And the club never disappoints, declares Morgan McLoud, Fashion Merchandising major and 2008-09 club president. She says, “We are so fortunate to be in a location where there are lots of charity galas and shows! These events provide great professional practice for us, giving us a chance to take what we’ve learned and apply it outside the classroom. Plus, they give us the opportunity to support some really important causes.”

Whether the event is a national fundraiser or a smaller community effort, Marymount Fashion Club members do whatever is asked of them. Their roles have ranged from the glamorous (escorting guest celebrities and acting as dressers for fashion models) to the mundane (manning the reception table and selling raffle tickets).

With more than 160 members, the Fashion Club is the largest student organization on MU’s campus. It is also one that demands a lot of its members. Morgan notes, “This past year, we participated in 51 events, most of which required 10 to 20 volunteers. The sheer numbers mean that all of our members have to take an active role. There’s just no way a core group of us could keep up with the schedule and still have time for school!”

But participation is not a problem. Lydia Russo, president-elect for 2009–10, is responsible for keeping track of who volunteers at what event. She laughs, “More often than not, the issue is making sure that everyone gets an assignment because we have so many willing workers.”

Dr. Pamela Stoessell, the Fashion Club’s advisor, emphasizes, “The members of this club must be reliable and responsible. When our students volunteer at an event, we are really putting Marymount’s good name on the line. I think the fact that groups come back year after year for our assistance is a testimonial not only to the professionalism of our students, but also to Marymount’s emphasis on service and giving back to the community. Our members are great goodwill ambassadors for the University.”

This is not to say that being responsible can’t also be exciting! Lydia recalls, “During the Inauguration, we served as ushers for the Artists & Athletes Sports Alliance Inaugural Party, which was an outreach to use the influence of celebrities to build awareness of community service. We met Toby Maguire, Fran Drescher, David Arquette, and Jennifer Lopez!”

One of the premier charity events in the DC area is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s annual Breath of Life Gala, held at the National Building Museum. This was the Fashion Club’s fourth year working with the Foundation to help make the gala a success; this year, the event raised over $3,000,000. In appreciation for the Marymount students’ continued support, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation recently honored the MU Fashion Club with a plaque commending their service.

Kristy Webb, Fashion Merchandising ’09, describes another rewarding event: “I was particularly inspired by the Dress for Success Sorting Party, where donated career clothes are recycled to less-advantaged women who need appropriate outfits for job interviews and work. We helped sort the clothes and then assisted the clients in picking out and coordinating their ensembles.”

And the club did so much more! Last fall, members volunteered at a Badgley Mischka fashion show held at the Chevy Chase Saks Fifth Avenue store; a percentage of the day’s proceeds went to Children’s National Medical Center. Later in the semester, the club hosted local Girl Scout troops on a visit to Marymount to see the campus and talk about the academic disciplines of fashion design and fashion merchandising. Club members also assisted at a number of on-campus events, including the Marymount Angels’ Shops at Main Boutique, the Midnight Madness Basketball Tip-off Party, and the Portfolio in Motion student fashion show.

Morgan McLoud sums it all up: “Participating in high-profile community events gives us incredible professional exposure while we’re still students. At the same time, we get to help others. It’s really a win-win situation, and we are so grateful to have these opportunities to serve!”

Global Charity Project

Sometimes great ideas can spring from a group of friends just hanging out, sharing a pizza and lofty dreams. In February 2008, Kellen Macbeth ’09, Alexander Herman ’09, and Justin Domes ’08 had a little time on their hands, so they decided to build a school in Africa. That plan proved a bit too ambitious; but in that conversation, the seed was planted for a new Marymount University club, the Global Charity Project (GCP).

Global Charity Project silent auction
 
And the seed didn’t take long to germinate. Kellen, who has been active in volunteer service since high school, combined his commitment to service with a little know-how on getting things done. He says, “Our goal was to awake the Marymount community’s sense of charity. It’s easy to have tunnel vision when you’re in school, and just focus on getting through each day. We wanted to try to get people to look outside their immediate environment, outside their own experience, to see where they could make a difference.”

He adds, “I knew that the quickest way to make a difference, especially in distant places, was with money. So we decided that GCP would primarily be a fund-raising operation.” The three students moved quickly, writing the club’s constitution, receiving approval from Marymount’s administration, and fulfilling the legal requirements necessary to raise funds for charitable causes.

Meanwhile, Kellen was researching possible beneficiaries for the club’s efforts. He was put in touch with a priest from Kahama, Tanzania, who was looking for assistance for his impoverished parish, which needed clean drinking water and a regular food supply.

The members of Marymount’s newest club got busy soliciting donations from students, faculty and staff, parents, and local businesses. Within three months they had raised $3,100. They sent the funds to the Diocese of Kahama, to buy land and tools and seeds to establish a garden that would be an ongoing source of food for the students in a girls’ school there.

Kellen emphasizes, “One of our guiding principles is that our projects provide more than one-time help. We want to fund sustainable initiatives that will have long-term benefits and offer ways for people to help themselves.”

One lesson learned from the Tanzania project was that working with a private individual or entity far away can be difficult. So, for its next initiative, the Global Charity Project decided to partner with an existing non-governmental organization that already had identified project needs and had the groundwork in place to provide help.

After requesting proposals from numerous agencies, GCP chose to work with World Hope International, which gave the MU group a goal of raising $3,500 to fund a well for the village of Masongbo-logo in Sierra Leone. In fall 2009, the students held numerous campus events to raise funds and increase awareness about the lack of access to clean water in many parts of the world. Their activities included a raffle, a silent auction, and an “H2O Dinner” with a faculty panel discussing clean water as an ethical and social justice issue. Support from community members, friends, and family members also came in steadily. In total, GCP raised $4,123 that semester.

Emily Prichard of World Hope International says, “Never before have we had a college group be this proactive and raise so much money! You can’t imagine the joy and tears of happiness when people have a well built in their village.”

Not a club to rest on its laurels, GCP launched another $4,000 fund-raising effort in spring 2009, in partnership with ProNiño USA. The project involved remodeling and expanding a home for street children, ranging in age from 6 to 12, in El Progresso, Honduras. Kellen Macbeth explains, “At present, they are housing 42 children in a building that’s meant for 30. Shockingly, one of the rooms has to be a detox center because the children there sniff shoe glue to alleviate their hunger pangs.”

Kellen continues, “We still raise the bulk of our donations through letters to on- and off-campus donors, but other groups here at Marymount have become involved in supporting our projects. For example, some of the proceeds from this year’s International Club Banquet were earmarked for GCP. We also had a Green Ribbon Week with broad student participation; people gave a one-dollar donation to GCP and received a green ribbon to wear.” He laughs, “Strategically, we scheduled that for the week of St. Patrick’s Day!”

As 2009 graduates, Kellen and Alexander were pragmatic and philosophical in turning over the reins of leadership of the organization they founded. Kellen remarks, “Transition is important to keep people invested. Some club members have expressed a desire to do more direct volunteer work, so this spring we went to the DC Central Food Kitchen and helped prepare dinners for 5,000 people. But as of right now, GCP is still primarily a fund-raising organization. I guess we’ll have to see where its future leaders take it.”

Reflecting on the life-changing projects that the Global Charity Project funded in its first two years of existence, Kellen says, “Everyone has a personal responsibility to be charitable, whether that means helping your neighbor next door or a stranger thousands of miles away. Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. So my message to future Marymount students is, ‘Get involved now! There’s no better time to make a difference.’”