75% of students report volunteering during their undergraduate careers at W&M. During my time as a student, I also spent several hours a week volunteering at various locations in Williamsburg, but the project I found nearest and dearest to my heart involved a local therapeutic horseback riding center called Dream Catchers. Throughout the Saturday mornings helping with lessons, mucking stalls, and cleaning tack, I learned a great deal about compassion and patience from the amazingly courageous and endearing students. Unfortunately, my ties to Dream Catchers were somewhat neglected when I moved to Germany directly after graduation. Even though I was no longer making the trip to be a part of their mission each weekend, I still often thought about the well being of the students and horses in the program. So you can imagine my excitement at a meeting this summer of the Williamsburg Alumni Chapter when I learned that alumni members were encouraged to join current students in a Make a Difference Day project at Dream Catchers. The Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship annually facilitates this day when hundreds of students are able to participate in various service projects in and around Williamsburg as well as the rest of Virginia in hopes of engaging students in community service and civic engagement during their undergraduate career.
After signing up for the project, I began to recruit the help of other alumni living in the Williamsburg area. On a rainy Saturday in October, ten W&M alumni (ranging from the Class of 1956 to the Class of 2007) gathered to help Dream Catchers prepare for an annual showcase scheduled to be held the following day. During the morning we all took turns cleaning stalls, sprucing up flowerbeds, planting bulbs, and doing anything we could to make the facilities and grounds look just that much more presentable for their big event. As we washed away the typical barn crud and mucked up the familiar presents horses are known to leave behind, we chatted about our personal connections to W&M and the volunteer spirit we all seemed to take away from our college experience. I expected to find that all of those volunteers willing to forego sleeping in on this cold and rainy morning would have a passion for either horses, a desire to work with children with physical or mental disabilities, and/or a deep love for their alma mater. I came prepared to dig into my arsenal of knowledge regarding these topics in hopes of keeping up conversation with my fellow alums.
Straining to keep up conversation never entered my mind while I picked, swiped, and dug. All ten of us naturally and easily gravitated towards discussing our desire to volunteer and make a difference in another person’s life. The idea behind Make a Difference Day was the general consensus as to why anyone would not hit the snooze button four or five times that morning. The 10 alums (at least one from each of the past six decades) seemed to agree that the “nature of service” played a meaningful part in their everyday lives. Of course many of us also chatted about our history with horses and the good ole days at W&M, but the common bond to remain active and engaged members of our communities seemed truly universal to our small group.
What I took away from that Saturday and from my time as an undergrad at W&M is that even though college students are often regarded as self-centered and a tad narcissistic, our students tend to shatter that traditional view of collegiate conformity (as you will find that many other college stereotypes fall apart at W&M). It is refreshing to know that the generous, aware, and concerned W&M mentality does not cease to exist after graduation. Hopefully, I’ll be just as willing as my fellow alum and member of the Class of 1956 when I’m asked to participate in a service experience some autumn day in 2060. I can only hope it does not begin so early in the morning!
– Amanda Norris