Virginia Tech Magazine
Spring 2009

Having a heart for service by Karen Gilbert

One hundred and thirteen years ago, then-VPI President John McLaren McBryde coined the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

Spurred by the strengthened sense of Hokie spirit that arose after the tragedy of April 16, today’s students, alumni, faculty and staff members, family, and friends proudly continue that legacy.

A daycare facelift project honored Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy of service.
A daycare facelift project honoring
Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy of service.

The Virginia Tech culture of service is evident in two new initiatives created to strengthen and support our service efforts: VT-ENGAGE and the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships (CSECP).

DEVON, on working with children at the YMCA: "This experience was valuable. It was great to see that donating a little amount of my time each week made such a difference. These kids were so excited to have us there at the after-school program, and I think I really learned a lot from it. Without the YMCA volunteers, these kids wouldn't get to participate in this program after school, and I think it's important to have our students participating as volunteers and making it happen."
VT-ENGAGE, the university's volunteer program, was established in October 2007, partially in response to the April 16 tragedy and partially to provide resources to help people fulfill our historic motto. During the past academic year, more than 350,000 hours were pledged and served by students, faculty and staff members, and alumni participating in VT-ENGAGE.

The number of hours recorded through VT-ENGAGE represents only a portion of the actual amount of service being performed, however; we continue to learn about new service projects and other community service activities performed by Hokies. As a benchmark, half of our alumni who are registered with VT-ENGAGE are each performing more than 100 hours of service per year. And it is not unusual to find retired Hokies who gladly volunteer nearly full time every week to give back to the community.

In an effort to strengthen community partnerships, VT-ENGAGE hosts a volunteer recruitment fair each fall for area nonprofit organizations. Last fall, 150 nonprofits participated in the volunteer fair as part of a new event called "Gobblerfest," which is designed to welcome new students and celebrate the start of the academic year. As a result of the volunteer fair, many students signed up to help the community in a wide variety of roles.

Established in August 2008, the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships (CSECP) puts VT-ENGAGE and service learning under one roof to support their shared mission to institutionalize community engagement at Virginia Tech. Associate Professor James Dubinsky, who co-chaired Virginia Tech's Task Force on Student Engagement and has a long record of participating in service learning, was selected as the center's first director.

VT student working with elementary school student. Photo by Kim Peterson.


Virginia Tech students and alumni are especially active in living out Ut Prosim. Through major service projects, such as Alumni Blood for Life, a blood drive held each April, and Hokie Nation Serves in April, a month-long effort to encourage others to volunteer, alumni continue to serve as role models.

Unique service projects continue to spring up all the time. For example, Virginia Tech alumni and friends who are members of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), a national service organization, are helping to lead a special project this year. The Southwest Virginia GFWC wanted to honor the award-winning Virginia Tech Rescue Squad (VTRS), especially for its service to the community on April 16, 2007. The chapter has galvanized local, regional, state, and national members of the GFWC in pledging to raise enough funds to purchase a much-needed new ambulance for the squad.

Virginia Tech alumni serve for life!
This project has resulted in an ongoing supportive relationship between the VTRS and the GFWC. Members of the GFWC have participated in a workday to improve the VTRS facility, and in the fall, they held a collection drive to provide items needed by the rescue squad for day-to-day operations, such as pillows, towels, food, pots and pans, and cleaning supplies. (To help with this project, please contact Emma Jean Wise, president of the Virginia GFWC at

The Virginia Tech German Club Alumni Foundation (GCAF) recently came up with a way to elevate the importance of service in the surrounding community: an annual celebration in April called "Leading Lights: Neighbors Honoring Neighbors."

"The three pillars of the German Club are Leadership, Service, and Fellowship," explains Wayne Campbell, president of the GCAF. "Seeing the outstanding response of volunteers to the events of April 16, 2007, the GCAF Board of Directors proposed an annual community-wide celebration of volunteerism. The purpose is twofold: to recognize our neighbors who have volunteered and inspired others to volunteer and to help continue the culture of volunteerism among our neighbors."

STEPHANIE, on working with Hanover Arc Inc.: "Initially, while I was helping at the club meeting for adults with mental disabilities, I felt that I was not doing as much as I would have liked because the organizers seemed to have everything under control. I soon realized, however, that my mere presence and interest in the members was making more of an impact than I had ever anticipated. For those of us who would like to make a difference in people's lives, I think it is important to remember that the biggest impact we can have on someone is how we make them feel."
Leaders of the GCAF teamed up with nonprofit leaders in the New River Valley to create a Leading Lights Steering Committee that selects the winners of five volunteer awards given annually in three categories: community (three), collegiate (one), and youth (one). Award winners will be selected based on strong community involvement; demonstrated lifestyle of dedicated, continuous, long-term involvement to the community; proven leadership; and creativity in initiating and implementing projects that lead to a better quality of life. All award recipients will be honored with a donation of $1,000 to the nonprofit of their choice.

Each April, an awards banquet will bring together key volunteers, the organizations they are supporting, and community leaders to celebrate the contributions made by these individuals. A generous first-year gift from the GCAF to establish Leading Lights will have a meaningful impact on the volunteer spirit in the community far into the future.


Spurred by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, members of the Tech community participated in the university's largest off-site Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day service project to date. The 2009 MLK Daycare Facelift Project was part of the national King Day of Service that actively honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of service.

On Jan. 19, 2009, more than 200 students were joined by faculty and staff members and community members to form 17 teams that performed facelifts for local daycares, including painting walls, fences, and artistic wall murals; adding chalkboard walls and magnetic walls; building sandboxes and dirt play boxes; mulching yards and play areas; and designing new reading and library rooms. Each team was provided with $100 in seed money to purchase supplies needed for the facelift, co-funded by CSECP. Additional support, including breakfast and transportation for volunteers, was provided by the Office for Equity and Inclusion at Virginia Tech.

VT student working with Blacksburg-area senior citizen

Volunteers photographed the work of each of the teams so it could be electronically recorded to help plan future projects and generate excitement for service. Area churches and individual donors provided much-appreciated sack lunches for the volunteers, making the project a true community effort.

"Our new wall mural is beautiful," says Gulbun Esen, director of the Children's Nest in Blacksburg. "When parents and community members come into the daycare center, it is nice to be able to tell them that Tech students volunteered their time and resources to paint for us. It's like bringing a piece of the community into our center."


Remember, serve, and learn are the primary components of the VT-ENGAGE program, and they are closely intertwined. Service can be a powerful way to honor and help carry out the potential of a life cut short. We continue to develop and seek input on remembrance projects. Remembrance projects already have been established by families, friends, and alumni to honor those lost on April 16, including Teach for Madame, Teach for Jamie, and Erin Peterson Build.

GARY, on working with the Kiwanis Club of Radford: "Both the Christmas Parade and Youth in Government Day (YIG) gave me and our group a really strong sense of service and joy for our community. The parade serves as a wonderful holiday kickoff, and YIG day has inspired a number of future community leaders during its 50-plus year history, including the current assistant city manager and the sheriff."

When asked why he created Teach for Madame, an after-school language program for elementary school students in remembrance of French instructor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, junior John Welch says, " I knew I wanted to contribute something to Madame's memory. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the immense amount of talent and love for service shared by the victims of April 16. So with the announcement of VT-ENGAGE, I decided that volunteering to continue Madame's service of bringing language to youth with such great passion would be an appropriate way of remembering her."

Yet Welch never expected the program to grow as quickly as it has. With a good deal of innovation and entrepreneurialism, Virginia Tech French students have been able to take the program to three schools and plan to continue expanding it. Welch is in the process of incorporating these language programs into a single student-run nonprofit corporation and will continue to help other programs develop within that foundation, including Teach for Reema (in Arabic), to honor victim Reema Samaha, and a Spanish program for the Spanish Honor Society.

Because there is a need for elementary-age foreign language instruction in the Blacksburg area, "these programs can go a long way to prepare our youth for an international society," Welch says. "We'll do everything we can to bring that to our own community."


Almost a year after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, students who had either been taught by Herr Jamie Bishop or had attended his weekly Stammtische at restaurants around Blacksburg came together to find a way to honor him. Teach for Jamie was born from their desire to remember a remarkable man. "He was so passionate about teaching and made the students passionate about it, too," says Betsy Potter, one of the founding members of the program. "We thought it was a nice way to honor him."

VT student working with Blacksburg-area senior citizen
Teach for Jamie, which is modeled after Teach for Madame, is an early language program in which kindergarteners through fifth graders have the opportunity to learn German. German language students from the Foreign Language Department manage the program and teach the elementary school students on a voluntary basis.

As with Teach for Madame, there is no cost for the elementary students to participate in this program, an aspect that the language students consider to be the most important of the program. All of the funding, such as money for the learning materials, comes from private donors.

The number of student volunteers has more than doubled since last semester, from 11 to 23. Teach for Jamie will now be offered not only at Margaret Beeks Elementary but also at Kipps Elementary, both in Blacksburg, bringing the total elementary student enrollment in the program to about 90 students.


Jon Butt (finance and management '82) is leading the effort to build five houses in memory of Erin Peterson, who also was dedicated to service. The first-year student was co-president of EMPOWER, an organization dedicated to building self-esteem and confidence in young minority girls. In cooperation with Loudoun Habitat for Humanity, the project will build homes in a new subdivision that, along with one of its streets, will be named for Erin. The subdivision will surround 22032 St. Louis Road in Middleburg, Va., adjacent to the St. Louis community, where Erin's family has roots. Construction on the five houses starts this spring.

Butt is the chairman, broker/owner, and a managing member of Riverstone Builders LLC, and a member of the board of directors of Loudoun Habitat for Humanity. When asked what inspired him to create the Erin Peterson Build, Butt says, "To put it simply, Hokie Spirit. I did not want the people we lost to be forgotten. Instead, I felt that we, as Hokies, had to do something to continue their spirit in a positive way. Doing good things that they were passionate about in their memory seemed to me to be the obvious choice--to be respectful but not to focus all our energy on a tragic day."

J.S., on service through the Virginia Tech Alumni Associaion: "Performing community service as part of the 2008 Orange Bowl trip was a great idea. I commend the Alumni Association for their leadership in this effort. It would be great if the ACC could take on this project as an annual effort in conjunction with the Orange Bowl."
Other project leaders include John Kelly (accounting '81), Debbie Bauer (business '80), Sean Milliken (communication '91), Katherine "K.C." Eady (statistics '08), and Judy Beattie (public administration '83).

Approximately $400,000 is needed to fund materials for four of the five houses--the materials for the fifth house are being funded by a local corporation.To raise money, the Loudoun Habitat for Humanity is sponsoring an online auction by eBay's MissionFish program, which helps nonprofits fundraise on eBay and was founded by Milliken.

Additionally, volunteers are needed to work at the home sites, spread the word about the project, donate materials, provide housing for students working at the site, fundraise, and host a celebratory event, among other options. (To volunteer, e-mail Butt at or search Facebook for the "Erin Peterson Build" group.)

The experience of creating a project in remembrance of Peterson has taken Butt beyond his professional scope. "A couple of years ago, I never would have pictured myself creating a Facebook page, being a benefit concert promoter, getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, or selling items on eBay. Reconnecting with Tech through VT-ENGAGE, the Athletics Department, students, and other alumni who are involved with remembrance projects, as well as meeting dedicated people who work at Tech, makes me proud to be a Hokie."


Actively living the Ut Prosim motto makes the Hokie Nation stand apart--and brings us together. If you or your organization would like to get more involved in service, contact VT-ENGAGE or CSECP for help finding and developing service projects. Your heart for service can go a long way toward helping your community. Join your fellow Hokies and make service a part of your life.

VT ENGAGE Who has benefited from the 100+ hours of alumni volunteer labor? Here are some of the hundreds of organizations that have been helped by Hokies.

4-H (multiple locations)
Boy Scouts of America (multiple locations)
Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women
A Forever-Home Rescue Foundation
American Cancer Society
Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company
Special Olympics (multiple locations)
Habitat for Humanity (multiple locations)
Hearts & Hammers
Morgantown Hospice
Christian Dental Society
Operation Blessing International
Carnegie Hall
Boys and Girls Club (multiple locations)
Floyd County Humane Society
New River Valley Lacrosse Club
Montgomery County Christmas Store
Girl Scouts (multiple locations)
VCU Center for Human-Animal Interaction
Meals on Wheels (multiple locations)
Alden Park Neighborhood Watch
American Association of Yoga in Daily Life
J & J's Homeless Pet Rescue
Samaritan's Purse
American Red Cross
Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
Starlight Children's Foundation
Aquarium of the Pacific
Project Linus
New Song Center for Grieving Children and
Those Who Love Them
Cat's Cradle of Greater Richmond
St. John Bosco Knights of Columbus
For the Kid
AIDS Walk Atlanta
Human Rights Campaign
Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS
"Dining By Design"
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
South Mountains State Park
Canine Companions for Independence
Locks of Love

The Noblemen of Norfolk
South Roanoke Nursing Home
Bridges of Faith
SOS Beagles
Mathews Maritime Foundation
Rotary (multiple locations)
YMCA (multiple locations)
Packages From Home
Brooks Global Studies Magnet School
National Marrow Donor Program
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
WUMC Missions Team
Appalachia Service Project
Virginia Beach Vision
Blount Hospitality House
Fantasy Playhouse Children's Theater
Destination ImagiNation
Golden Retriever Rescue, Education, and Training
Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department
George Mason High School
The Florence Crittenton Agency
Orphans International
Junior Chamber International
Duke University Hospital Best Buddies Program
Project Styleburst (New River Valley Community Services)
Youth Apostles
Refugee and Immigrant Services Program
at Lutheran Social Services
Food for All
2nd Chance 4 Pets
Breakthrough Austin
Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association
Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries
Karen Nash Memorial Butterfly Garden
Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program
FIRST Lego League
East Hanover Volunteer Rescue Squad
Sustainable Blacksburg
Relay for Life
Children's Miracle Network Classic

Karen Gilbert is the assistant director for the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships (CSECP).

Other contributors to the article include Kymn Davidson-Hamley, executive director of the Montgomery County, Radford, and Floyd United Way; Joanna Crowder, senior in English and professional writing; and James Dubinsky, director of CSECP.

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