It all started off as a requirement for one of my psychology courses: a small asterisks on the syllabus denoting that we would have to spend at least thirty hours volunteering to work with at-risk individuals at either the infant, adolescent, or elder age. I was placed at Merrimac, a juvenile detention center in James City County and would be serving as a mentor and role model for the students there. I could not have even begun to imagine then how transformative that one classroom requirement would be. I went from being a nervous college student who silently sat observing the activities and youths at the Center, to devising my own group sessions and talking one-on-one with any of the students who desired a listening ear. The students became more than just offenders who deserved their time in Merrimac. I grew to see them as the real human beings they are: individuals, often the product of parents, teachers, or an environment that failed them, who had made a bad choice or mistake. Long after my thirty hours were complete, I continued to return to Merrimac once a week for a couple of hours. Those hours off campus were some of the most draining but rewarding I’ve experienced.
I recommend to any prospective student, whether you end up at William and Mary or another institution, to take time and find a volunteer opportunity in your area. Then, fully commit at least a couple hours a week so that you may fully reap the benefits of being engaged in the organization. If you are fortunate, it might even help you discover a passion or foster your own personal growth as Merrimac has so unexpectedly done for me.
This summer, I was a very grateful recipient of a grant from the Bionetics Corporation, which provides money to William and Mary students every summer who wish to volunteer at an organization that benefits the Newport News area. My grant, in addition to the free housing I have been awarded for conducting summer research, has allowed me to stay in Williamsburg for the summer. I will continue to volunteer at Merrimac as well as participate in research projects under Dr. Dallaire, the same psychology professor who first required my volunteer placement. As the summer continues, I will be sure to add some more information about these projects as well as reflections of my placement.