Anna-Catherine Kueng ~ Assistant Editor
The Center for Community Engagement is an on-campus resource that allows students at the University of Lynchburg to get involved in the Lynchburg community through volunteering.
According to Director of Community Engagement and Bonner Leaders, Cindy Ferguson, “The University of Lynchburg Center for Community Engagement exists to provide high-impact, service opportunities on a continuum from charity/fundraising to community-based research for all students, faculty, and staff by partnering with local non-profit agencies to meet the needs of our campus and the Greater Lynchburg Community.”
Caroline McKean, the Graduate Assistant of The Center for Community Engagement, added, “The center provides students a chance to explore volunteer and service learning opportunities by providing a range of service experiences to help students understand what kind of volunteer, leader, and eventually servant leader they would like to grow into. Our center provides information through social media, email newsletters, and face-to-face meetings in our office to help students explore serving in Lynchburg and the wider region.”
The volunteer events they offer vary, as McKean explained, “Our students can volunteer with animals (think the Humane Society, Brookhill Farms, or other rescue organization), with youth through the YMCA, tutoring programs, after school programs, and with nonprofits that support programs that help those facing housing insecurity, hunger, poverty, and joblessness.”
The Center for Community Engagement sent an email to students on Oct. 8, 2019, listing upcoming events for the month of October. These include: volunteering for the Alzheimer Association Walks on Oct. 18-19 and Oct. 25-27, the Central VA Sensory Experience Trunk or Treat on Oct. 19, The Hallowoods Family Festival on Oct. 24, and Bedford Hills School Carnival from Oct. 25-26.
Some of these volunteer partnerships are new, while others the university has been involved with in recent years.
“It is my understanding that our campus has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association for many years. Being new to this partnership myself, I met with Jane Massie, who is the development manager for our area. We will be exploring new ways that we can partner with them to impact our community, the Greater Lynchburg Community, and our campus community,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson explained how the Center for Community Engagement came to be. She said, “During the 2017-2018 academic year, the university decided to merge the Office of Community Involvement (OCI) and the Bonner Leader Program to align with best practices of other colleges and universities, and to move towards the goals of the university’s Vision 2020+ Strategic Plan for students to be engaged inside and outside of the classroom, and providing students with creative and innovative opportunities for community-engaged learning.”
Ferguson first came to the university while getting her Masters in Education in School Counseling. She served as the first graduate assistant for the Bonner Leader Program for three years. Eventually, she was asked to be the Interim Director of Bonner Program.
“In this position, I was also tasked with re-branding our office and the work we do. As such, we were granted a name change to Center for Community Engagement to better align with best practices and to begin using a common language for the work that we do as we move toward the application process for the Carnegie Community Engagement Endorsement. In March, I interviewed for the Director of OCI and began this position on April 1, 2019.”
Even before Ferguson had her current position, she was very involved in serving her community. She said, “I love serving in my community to give back because I have been given so much. In high school, I was a junior member of our volunteer rescue squad, worked with students with special needs through 4-H, and taught Sunday School at church. All of this was in Luray, VA, where I am from. This began a life of service in both Luray and in Lynchburg, since my husband and I moved here in 1991. For me, to combine my love for service and empowering students to be world changers in both their own lives and in their communities is a dream. It is great when you see a student’s eyes light up when they discover their purpose and how to connect their service, academics, and future career goals.”
McKean is passionate about volunteering, as well. She said, “I have been engaged in service work since I was a child helping my mom pick up trash to help our environment. The sense of pride and satisfaction I get from the work is invaluable. And the students that I talk to after they have a profound experience working with animals, making a change for the environment, or communicating with a senior citizen, [I can see how] it changes them. It comes down to a warm, connected feeling in your heart. Service starts as doing something for someone else, but you quickly learn that service provides just as much for your own happiness and sense of contribution.”
Ferguson emphasized, “Serving in one’s community is important because it makes one more aware of the needs surrounding them, gives compassion, perspective, and understanding to another’s experiences, helps one learn new ways they can impact their communities and their own lives, helps one explore their own interests and passions, helps to develop relationships with those one may not have otherwise, assists in developing soft skills needed for employment (NACE competencies such as critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, digital technology, leadership), and empowers one to recognize social justice issues, and prompts [students] to be change makers.”
McKean added, “No matter what you do to serve, whether it is picking up a piece of trash on campus, rescuing animals, or sitting with someone different from you and striking up a conversation, these actions have the potential to change our communities for the better. After all, is not that what we all are trying to do at the University of Lynchburg..represent our values and make our spaces, our communities, and our worlds, better?”
If you are interested in learning more about the Center for Community Engagement, Ferguson said you can stop by their office, which is located on the second floor of Drysdale across from the Office of Equity and Inclusion, or you can visit their website at https://www.lynchburg.edu/student-life/center-for-community-engagement. They can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, and their Instagram, @hornetserveul.