Amid Economic Uncertainty, Mason Is a Good Neighbor

Posted: March 17, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

In these uncertain times, Mason students, staff and faculty members are doing what they can to pitch in — both close to home and farther afield. From a staff member conducting a food drive on campus to students spending spring break doing community service projects, the Mason community is making a difference.

Last week, 50 Mason students departed for five different sites in the United States to spend the week volunteering as part of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. Mason students have been participating in these trips, which are organized by the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE), every year since 1996.

Students pay a small amount to cover travel, lodging and food for the experience of serving an underprivileged community. Forgoing the typical spring break vacation in favor of service, some students worked with HIV/AIDS awareness groups in New York City this year, while others repaired mangrove forests and park trails in the Florida Everglades.

Kristen Thoms, a senior biology major, just spent her second spring break in Stuart, Fla., for a conservation-themed trip. She and her fellow volunteers removed invasive plants, planted restorative vegetation and created an irrigation system.

“I definitely feel like every participant leaves [ASB] motivated to come home and continue their efforts to be an active citizen,” says Thoms.

Meanwhile, one Mason student is doing his part to encourage student volunteering. R. Kyle McDaniel, secretary of the treasury for Student Government, came up with a plan to incentivize community service.

Student Government’s new Community Service Encouragement Program is partnering with the University Bookstore to offer students who volunteer 50 hours or more per semester a one-time 20 percent discount on a bookstore purchase. Also, all students participating in the program will be entered into a drawing for a $75 bookstore gift card.

McDaniel serves on Fairfax County’s Advisory Social Services Board and sees firsthand the need for volunteers in the area.

“They administer all of the welfare and social programs in the county, and they’re dying for help,” McDaniel says. “They’re the safety net for the county, but they’re having their funding pulled while more people are depending on them. They need the volunteer hours in order to survive.”

For more information, e-mail McDaniel.

Mason staff members are also making a difference in the community. Maria D. Sutton, administrator and HR and planning assistant in the School of Public Policy, has started a food drive to benefit the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, which serves Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

Sutton was moved to help after reading a letter to the editor in her local paper that stated most of the food bank’s donations come in during the winter holidays but drop off in the spring.

Sutton plans to collect donations through the end of March, when she will drop off the collected food to the Fredericksburg nonprofit. To help, drop off boxed or canned shelf-stable foodstuffs to Sutton in the Finley Building on the Fairfax Campus, Room 222. Foods like pasta, rice, whole-grain cereal and canned fruits and vegetables are on the organization’s wish list.

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